The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, can break racial and gender barriers. Just think of Hattie McDaniel (“Gone with the Wind”), Sidney Poitier (“Lilies of the Field”) or last year’s Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”).
Unfortunately, the Academy Awards can also show how Hollywood and our society are still dominated by white men.
When this year’s Oscar nominations were announced Jan. 25, they were immediately dubbed “the whitest Oscars in 10 years” as no actors of color were nominated. The debate over whether Javier Bardem “counts” as a person of color just made the issue more apparent.
The reasons why no actors of color were nominated are manifold. Last year, many famous African-American and Latino actors made comedies, which naturally do not get nominated for Academy Awards. Also, in difficult economic times, studio executives want economically secure movies – blockbusters with large, mostly white audiences.
A large percentage of studio executives are older white men. This is reflected in the movies we see – often featuring white beautiful characters.
In the history of the Academy Awards, only four women have been nominated for Best Director. This year, Lisa Cholodenko (“The Kids Are All Right”) and Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”) seemed like strong contenders. While Cholodenko and Granik were nominated for Best Writing and their films received Best Picture nominations, neither woman was considered for her directing.
It is interesting to compare the position of racial minorities to the position of women in Hollywood and our media.
Discrimination is wrong and bad for all of us, yet it seems 51 percent of the population have made fewer strides than racial minorities have. In this case, strength doesn’t seem to lie in numbers. White men, certainly not a majority in this country, still hold most of the positions of power.
According to the Women’s Media Center, only eight percent of film writers are female and only seven percent of 2009’s top films were directed by women. The most shocking of all numbers might be the number 3 – as in 3 out of 100 decision-makers in the media are women.
As an individual consumer, you might think that there isn’t anything you can do to change this situation. However, this isn’t true.
Hollywood makes movies that sell, movies that get seen by millions of people. If you want to change this situation, go see movies that feature women and people of color in prominent roles – not just as token characters or pretty background.
To find out more about the role of women in our media, watch the trailer for the new documentary “Miss Representation” at www.missrepresentation.org.