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Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Pervasive Culture of Sexism Among Hollywood And The Academy

"For so bravely and intelligently distributing the film and to the audiences who went to see it and perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people."
That’s an excerpt from Cate Blanchett’s acceptance speech at the 86th Annual Academy Awards when she won the Best Actress Oscar for her work in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. I don’t think there’s a single person who disagrees with Blanchett. Amy Adams and Maggie Gyllenhaal expressed similar sentiments when they gave their Golden Globe speech a few weeks ago. There’s this perceived notion in Hollywood that moviegoers don’t want to see films with females in the lead role or movies with strong, female characters, but that’s all it is- a perceived notion. It seems to me that studio executives think that high school boys are the only ones seeing movies, and the only way they’ll see a movie with a female lead is if she’s hot and she’ll take her top off. Obviously, this is blatantly untrue.

2014, probably more than any other year in recent memory, proves that not only are moviegoers willing and able to see films with female leads, but that the idea of a leading man carrying a film went by the wayside. Scarlett Johansonn had an incredible 2014 at the box office. Not only did she help Captain America: The Winter Soldier became a huge hit, but the bonkers Luc Besson Lucy made over $125,000 domestically. Oscar winner and America’s Sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence starred in two box office smash hits in 2014: The latest Hunger Games film and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Angelina Jolie also had a huge year (and if the Sony hack can bring anything to this discussion, Amy Pascal’s and Scott Rudin’s remarks help further prove the Boy’s Club that is Hollywood) with Maleficent grossing almost $250,000 domestically and Unbroken making a huge dent in The Hobbit’s profits at Christmastime.

Not only did females dominate the Box Office in 2014, but male star driven flicks took a back seat to the ladies. Unless it was a Chris Pratt vehicle, male star driven flicks underwhelmed financially. The most notable example of this was Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow. Despite almost consensus critical praise, the film lost its opening day weekend to Shailene Woodley’s The Fault in Our Stars and never hit #1 any weekend. Liam Neeson (A Walk Among The Tombstones), Denzel Washington (The Equalizer), Adam Sandler (Blended), Dwayne Johnson (Hercules), Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge), and the biggest dudefest of them all The Expendables III all either outright flopped or failed to perform to expectations at the Box Office this past year. [1]

Despite the commercial success the ladies have enjoyed recently, there still seems to be a problem with Hollywood distributing films with female leads that are also critically successful. Obviously you are going to have films like The Kids Are Alright and Zero Dark Thirty- films directed by females starring complex female characters that are also huge Oscar players, but for the most part, the ladies getting Oscar nominations in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress category come from films that don’t get a Best Film nomination and are not even considered all that good (relative, obviously). Take Cate Blanchett last year. Blue Jasmine only received two other Oscar nominations- one for Blanchett’s co-star Sally Hawking and the other for Woody Allen for his script. In fact, out of the 10 females who earned an acting Oscar nomination last year, only 60% of the nominees came from a film also nominated for Best Picture. That may seem like a lot, but 100% of their male counterparts came from a film also nominated for Best Picture.

Over the past 10 years, a Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor nominee is more likely to come from a Best Picture nominee than their female counterpart. Out of the 100 different nominees, 55% (or 55 in total) Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nominees came from a film that was also nominated for Best Picture compared to just 41% (or 41 in total) of Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominees. Only once in the past decade (the 79th Annual Ceremony) did the nominees for Actresses (4) outnumber the nominees for Actors (2) to come from a film also nominated for Best Picture. And these numbers don’t even tell the whole story. Even when actors and actresses were not in a film that was nominated for Best Picture, the pictures that nominated men were in were still big Oscar players or popular films versus the films that actresses in were in received very little love elsewhere. An anecdotal glance at films like Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Iron Lady, Albert Nobbs, Vera Drake, Maria Full of Grace, La Vie En Rose, The Savages, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and Frozen River are just a few examples where the film produced a Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress nominee but received almost no other Oscar nomination. Compare that to films like The Dark Knight, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The Master, Warrior, The Town, Cinderella Man, and Tropic Thunder where the film either earned major Oscar Awards elsewhere or were big enough on their own that they didn't need the Academy Awards to even get themselves on people’s radar.

The 2015 Oscar nominations prove once again that males who gave great performances tend to come from films that are Best Picture worthy whereas females who gave great performances are, if you judge how good a film is by the amount of Academy love it gets, come from movies where the only good thing in them is the female's performance. Out of the 10 Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nominees, 8 of them (Michael Keaton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Bradley Cooper, J.K. Simmons, Mark Ruffalo, Edward Norton, and Ethan Hawke) come from a picture that received a Best Film nomination whereas only 4 of the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominees (Felicity Jones, Patricia Arquette, Kiera Knightly and Emma Stone) came from a picture also nominated for Best Film. Out of the 8 Best Picture nominees, all of them have a male as their lead (while you could convince me that The Theory of Everything is more the story of Jane Hawking than it is of her famous husband, you would never call the character Eddie Redmayne played "Jane Hawking's husband", therefore it stars a male).

The films that the 10 men were in (outside of any acting nominations) collectively racked up 31 other Oscar nominations in 2015 whereas the films that the females were in collectively racked up 21 other nominations. Out of the 8 films that produced the 10 male acting nominees, The Judge was the only film where its sole nominations was its acting nomination versus of out of the 9 films that produced the 10 females acting nominees, four films (Wild, Gone Girl, Still Alice, and Two Days, One Night) could claim the title of  being"Oscar nominated" solely because of female performances.

In fairness to the females, I don't really want to see any film where the only good thing about it is one or two performances; if the only good thing about a film is one great male performance then I'm put off by that as well. I want to see stories and get sucked into the conflict whatever that may be. I want to enjoy what I'm watching and not just sit there solely to appreciate one particular aspect of the whole film. Doing that is like listening to jazz music just so I can appreciate the musicianship of the song. I'd rather listen to a crappy Taylor Swift album than a good jazz album. And just like many of the films that generate Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominations, males make bad films as well with one redeeming acting performance in it. Robert Duvall just got an Oscar nomination this year for being in a film that has a 47% on Rotten Tomatoes. Foxcatcher, a film I hated, is like that as well. But the problem is that boring films starring males get major Academy nominations and boring films starring females get nothing but female acting nominations. 

The main reason that females nominated for Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress tend to not star in Best Picture films is just because The Academy itself refuses to nominate these female starring vehicles for Best Picture. It’s not that females inherently star in bad or boring films or that these females driven films just aren’t as good as male driven films, but that’s how the Academy views these pictures nonetheless. Both males and females star in artsy, character driven films, but The Academy chooses to nominate the ones starring males for Best Picture and refuses to do the same for these females starring films. The Academy has consistently and historically shown a culture of sexism when it comes to female driven films compared to their male counterpart. The best example of this is 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club versus 2014’s Wild. Both films were directed by Jean-Marc Vallee and both films had their lead and supporting actor nominated for an Oscar (Matthew McConaughey and Jered Leto for Dallas Buyers Club and Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern for Wild). Both are character driven pieces made on a small budget, and both have roughly the same Rotten Tomatoes score (93% for Dallas Buyers Club and 90% for Wild). Yet a film like Dallas Buyers Club earns multiple non-acting Oscars including one for Best Picture and Best Screenplay while Wild receives absolutely no other non-acting Oscar nominations. Certainly the stories between these two films are wildly different (pun intended) but artistically and in the mind of the majority old, white, male Academy voters, the only difference between Jean-Marc Vallee’s films is that one is a male-driven piece and one in a female-driven piece.

Still, there exists a problem even if The Academy treats Dallas Buyers Club and Wild the same because both are still boring films that I wished I hadn’t wasted my time watching. There exists films that are not only entertaining to watch and are great, beautiful pieces of art that also have Oscar-worthy performances in it. 2014 was no different as there were plenty of films I would highly recommend to people that also had fantastic females performances in them. We deserve to see both great movies and great performances, and 2014 gave plenty of those that The Academy refused to recognize. Comedienne Jenny Slate starred in a film this year called Obvious Child that was really good (it currently has a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes). Jenny Slate herself should have been up for Best Actress and maybe the film itself isn't one of the 8 best of the year, but it's most certainly better than Foxcatcher, American Sniper, and The Theory of Everything. Almost everyone who has seen Beyond The Lights loved it along with it's lead performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, except for Academy voters. While I personally haven't seen the film because it doesn't appear to be my cup of tea, people loved both Under The Skin and Scarlett Johansonn in it. 

Unfortunately, great films that also have a great female performance in it seemingly rarely get recognized and it becomes a vicious cycle. The Academy often nominates great females from so-so movies so studios and financiers make so-so movies that have a great female performance in it, and we're left with a bunch of so-so movies that will soon be forgotten once Award Season ends. There's absolutely no reason we can't have prestige films that are both great and have great female performances in them, and if these types of movies continue to get made then The Academy will start to nominate females that come from Best Film nominees. 

Last year Cate Blanchett highlighted this problem and if the Golden Globe speeches were any indication, more and more actresses (and then hopefully actors and other people involved in film making) are starting to take a stand on this issue. The ironic part of Cate Blanchett's speech is that she was nominated for a film I never bothered to check out, and I write about this stuff for fun. I heard she was great in Blue Jasmine but from everything else I had heard the overall film was not worth watching. If Blue Jasmine was a better film, or even got a Best Picture nomination, I probably would have checked it out by now. 

[1] Special thanks to John Lopez’s Grantland article “The Box Office Winners and Losers of 2014” for these past two paragraphs. Check out his full article here



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