Awards: Why representation matters

Shelby Hagerdon, Guest Columnist

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In case you missed it, the Academy Awards were this past weekend. Bright lights, attempts at comedic interludes, and average musical productions saturated the show as they displayed some of the best films made in 2019. Unfortunately, it wasn’t only the best films made this year, and they didn’t even scratch the surface of the most important works—as indie films seem to go largely ignored. Big budget is all the rage and if you don’t have a good enough campaign or plenty of fruit baskets to bribe the judges, you probably have a slim chance of actually winning. Let’s face it, Weinstein bribed people for years and got away with it. You really think that’s going to stop now that he’s out of the game?

But, what does this parade of straight white guys with deep pockets picking up award after award mean for the film industry as a whole? Before we really begin, I have to say I am very proud that a foreign-language film won best picture and it gives me hope that eventually the general public will stop being afraid of subtitles. Beyond that, however, I do have some serious issues with the nominees and winners of this year’s awards. specifically, among the female nominees—or lack thereof. Of the top films made in 2019, 10.6% of the directors were women, more than double the percentage in 2018. This is great news, and this means we should probably be seeing more women nominated for best director and their films nominated for best picture, right? Wrong.

Not a single woman was nominated for best director and only one film nominated for best picture was directed by a woman. This wasn’t for lack of female-driven projects, however. The night before the Oscars, Film Independent held its awards. These awards are for small-budget indie films and tend to focus more on originality and craft rather than large production and money. We saw two out of the five best features directed by women, with Lulu Wang’s film “The Farewell” taking home the trophy. For directors, two out of the five nominees were women as well. Olivia Wilde also won for best first feature with “Booksmart,” another win for women.

How is it these women were snubbed by the Oscars? “The Farewell” wasn’t nominated for any Oscar, but still won best picture at FI. Female-directed films “Honey Boy” and “Hustlers” were also snubbed by the Academy with both films earning best director nominations at FI. But, how can there be so many inconsistencies? What replaced these films at the Oscars? Who were nominated in their place? Only five women have ever been nominated and only one has won in the show’s 92-year run. For best features this year, the one nomination with a female director—and the only nomination in which women make up the principle cast—was “Little Women,” directed by Greta Gerwig.

Instead of seeing Gerwig, Lulu Wang, Marielle Heller, Lorene Scarfaria, or Alma Har’el nominated, we saw the familiar faces of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. While both are respected directors and have created great works, their films this year lacked in originality. It felt as if we had watched these same films from them before. And while that is completely fine, does that mean they should still be nominated? Are their names alone a good enough excuse? When we don’t have new faces in the mix, we get this feeling that the industry is a club you could never dream of being a member of. And, even though you can hear the old men from the dining room saying they love seeing female filmmakers, the women are still forced to sit at the kiddie table. And this can be discouraging as it only furthers the idea that even though you work hard and they say you’re appreciated as an artist on the same grounds as the other members, you still aren’t receiving the recognition you deserve. And if we want to see more women directing, there needs to be that recognition. Not only out of respect and common human decency, but also because it inspires.

This is why representation matters. The Academy should not feel forced to include women in their round up, but they should acknowledge women exist and move away from the idea that experience and having the right name are what make a good film. The individual work is what matters, not a budget. Not the work that came before it. Not the over-priced fruit baskets sent to the judges. Not the name or the gender or the color of its creator. Let the films speak for themselves, Academy. Film Independent has it figured out. Catch up.