Film world needs female presence

Last March, Kathryn Bigelow made history by becoming the first woman ever awarded the Oscar for Best Director.

As 2010 was only the fourth time a woman had even been nominated, it was a momentous occasion for women in the film industry. And yet this year’s Oscar nominees, however, reveal that little has truly changed following Bigelow’s historic win.

The male-heavy list of Oscar hopefuls reflects the troubling behind-the-times state of Hollywood.

This year, like 79 of the other 83 years in Oscar history, there are no women nominated for the directing category. Five of the 10 Best Picture nominees have a woman among the Academy’s listed producers, but each has only one.

There are no female cinematographers and very few women in the editing, sound and visual effects categories. Art Direction and Costume Design are by far the most female-heavy categories. All this is business as usual at the Academy.

Lisa Cholodenko, director and co-writer of the The Kids Are All Right, and Debra Granik, director and co-writer of Winter’s Bone, make up the strongest female showing this year.

Each of their films received four nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay (Original for Kids, Adapted for Winter’s Bone). These are the only two films in the Screenplay categories with female writers.

The fact that so few women were nominated for Oscars might not reflect well on the Academy, but it also reflects poorly on the state of the industry.

Women can’t be nominated for Best Director if there are no women directing major films.

According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women directed seven percent of the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2009, the last year for which the center has data.

In the top 250 grossing films of 2009, women represented only 16 percent of all directors, executive producers,producers, writers, cinematographers and editors.

Interestingly, the number of women in these important positions is almost 10 percent higher in independent films that appear at U.S. festivals.

Both Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right are small, low-budget indie flicks that were able to quietly infiltrate the mainstream market.

These two films offer strong female roles (as proven by their Best Actress nominations) and stories that revolve around flawed, realistic women struggling to keep their families together.

Stories like these, created by women, are much more common in the indie scene. It appears studios are rarely willing to back female filmmakers, who are far more likely to provide positive representations of women, with the big budget that leads to box office success.

The dearth of women filmmakers and lack of positive female representation in popular movies is strikingly obvious in 2011.

Although superhero movies like The Green Hornet tend to relegate women to peripheral roles, the comedy scene is dominated by male-centric stories with female characters who offer nothing empowering to women viewers.

One of the most recent examples is the upcoming Just Go With It. The comedy stars Adam Sandler as a man who needs one hot actress (Jennifer Aniston) to pretend to be his wife to cover up a lie he told the younger hot actress (Brooklyn Decker).

In the Super Bowl spot trailer, the voice-over instructs the presumably male viewer, “Tell your girlfriend it’s a romantic comedy,” as a very busty blonde in a bikini wades out of the water.

Forgetting for a moment that the movie looks lackluster, the blatant objectification of both women in the trailer alone exemplifies the Hollywood chauvinism that is so common to male-produced studio fare.

There are some doing their best to put a solid dent in the industry’s seemingly indestructible glass ceiling.

Natalie Portman told Vogue in January that her new production company, Handsomecharlie Films, will focus on Judd Apatow-esque comedies for women.

Natalie Portman, who said she wants to make "Judd Apatow comedies for women," was nominated for Best Actress - Photo courtesy of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Portman acknowledges the need to counter male filmmakers’ tendency to objectify women, saying, “There’s a difference between being in a bra and underpants as an object on a men’s-magazine cover and playing yourself — a woman with desires and needs who loves and laughs with her friends — in a bra and underpants.”

It is important that women see themselves through female eyes as more than just the object of a man’s affection, but it won’t happen until there is a drastic change in Hollywood.

We need more women writing, directing, producing, photographing and editing the films people see, not just the ones at the festivals and art house theaters.

Women from Bigelow to Cholodenko to Portman are starting to clear the path to a strong female presence in the industry, but there’s still a long way to go before that glass ceiling breaks.

Cara Dickason is a senior majoring in cinema-critical studies and English. Her column, “Cine File,” runs Tuesdays.

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