Monday, February 23, 2009

And the Oscar goes to...

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Last month, when the Golden Globes rolled around, I wrote a post about the gendering of awards shows...namely, why we have a "best actress" and "best actor" but not a "best male cinematographer" and "best female cinematographer". Some have argued that it's because of star power (everyone wants more acting categories, but nobody wants to prolong the agony that is best sound editing), while others protest that this is the only way that women are ever going to win anything (think back to last night and try to remember how many of those sound editors and mixers and short filmmakers were women), but it's certainly interesting, and something that we tend to take pretty much for granted. Monica Hesse had an editorial about this very subject in the Washington Post yesterday, and she points out that the gender disparity isn't just in the awards, but in the films themselves. She cites a 2008 study by the University of Southern California which evaluated nearly 7,000 speaking roles in recent Oscar-nominated movies, and found that only 27 percent of those roles belonged to women. In films with female directors, however, the percentage skyrocketed to 44 percent. But then again, no female director has ever won the Best Director Oscar, and only three have ever been nominated.

So what's a female actress to do? I certainly don't want to think what would have happened if Kate Winslet had been up against Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke for the "Best Performer" Oscar last night. But in a year where Penelope Cruz won for her role as a unstable ex-lover in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and the only female character in the "Best Picture", Slumdog Millionaire, is pretty much there to be beautiful and the object of the main character's desire, and women were otherwise very much absent from the Oscars stage, I think we can all agree that some change is in order. And even though blaming the awards shows may not be the most productive solution, it's certainly a symptom of a larger problem.

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