Statement Regarding Today’s Oscar Nominations from Tara Johnson-Medinger, POWFest Executive Director
The Academy of Motion Pictures released its annual list of Oscar nominees today, presumably recognizing the best and brightest Hollywood offered filmgoers in 2014.
Missing from that list? Women, from almost any category except Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, and women of color from, well, even more categories. This year’s list represents the least diverse pool of Oscar nominees since 1998.
Anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account has now likely seen the voluminous rants over the exclusion of talented women directors like Ava DuVernay, who directed the important film SELMA about the Martin Luther King, Jr.-led march on Selma, Alabama. Also completely shut out was Angelina Jolie’s brilliant UNBROKEN, about the indomitable spirit of a U.S. Olympian held in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. These exclusions are egregious: SELMA is a powerful, big budget studio film about racial justice produced by Hollywood A-listers like Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, and UNBROKEN is an unmitigated box office hit, a commercial and critical success that in any other year would be ideal awards season fodder.
Unfortunately, once again, the Academy missed the boat. While SELMA was nominated for Best Picture, and deservedly so, in failing to recognize DuVernay for her important work as an African-American woman this past year, the Academy failed to make history—an especially grievous sin of omission today, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.
Some feminist critics are calling for a “girlcott” of the Oscars ceremony. I applaud the sentiment but wonder if that’s giving the Oscars too much power. If you want to see things change for women in Hollywood, here’s my two cents: See movies directed by women. Make a point to see SELMA and UNBROKEN, and then go see the dozens of other wonderful, women-led independent productions that are virtually ignored by Hollywood and mainstream filmgoers every year. While you’re at it, support festivals like POWFest, the Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival, committed to promoting women directors’ work going on 8 years now.
I hope the buzz around SELMA’s Oscars omission will drive more viewers to see it. I hope so. DuVernay’s work is an inspiration to all women filmmakers, and encourages important dialogue about how far race relations have come in 50 years (short answer: not far enough). I suppose it’s a shame she wasn’t thrown the annual token nomination the Academy reserves for one or two “outsiders.” Oscar voters are 93% white, 76% male with an average age of 63: most of us are outsiders to them. DuVernay certainly isn’t the first African-American woman director whose work has been under-recognized by Hollywood (see: Kasi Lemmons, Julie Dash, even Maya Angelou). Unfortunately, I doubt she’ll be the last.
I have made it my mission to work for women in film. I believe we have the power to change the system and we must seize it for ourselves. After today, I refuse to dwell on what the Oscars missed this year. I could waste my entire day ranting about the imbalance of power that exists in the film industry and how that imbalance perpetuates inequality and injustice in our larger culture.
The fact remains, and today’s nominations only reinforce it: There is much work still to be done when it comes to promoting women in film. Instead of ranting, I’m rolling up my sleeves and doing that work—I have a women’s film festival to program!
POWFest 2015, season 8, runs March 12th-March 15th. For more information, go to www.powfest.com