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The time has come,

. . . said Barbra Streisand in 2010 as she opened the envelope and announced Kathryn Bigelow’s name. Finally, after 81 years, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences had bestowed upon a woman, the award for Best Director. A long time coming and surely bittersweet for Streisand to breathe those words, having been passed over for Yentl in 1983 and again in 1991 for The Prince of TidesOf making movies, she once told Parade magazine that:

 Being a woman in music was fine, but when I wanted to direct, I was poking my head into a man’s world. ‘What do you mean you’re going to direct? Women are the actresses, they’re frivolous, not the ones responsible for finances.’ That really got me.

It gets me too that in 2016 a gender gap persists in the making of the movies that I pay to see. If Hollywood is the bastion of lefty progressivism it is purported to be, then how come most of the 305 films  at the box office in 2016 were made by white men? In their analysis of data from Oscars.com, The Women’s Media Center reports that:

  1. From 2006 to 2015, women constituted 24 percent of the producing (Best Picture) nominees. The percentage of female nominees doubled from 2006 to 2015, though the progress has been unsteady.
  2. In the past decade, only one woman, Kathryn Bigelow, was nominated for the Directing award.
  3. Between 2006 and 2015, female nominees accounted for 13 percent of the total nominations for Writing (Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay). In 2015, women have a total of four nominations in the writing categories, tying the all-time high from 2007.
  4. Male nominees have dominated the Film Editing category: A mere 17 percent of the total nominations in the past decade were for women.
  5. The 19 categories examined are: Best Picture; Directing; Writing (Original Screenplay); Writing (Adapted Screenplay); Film Editing; Cinematography; Production Design; Costume Design; Makeup and Hairstyling; Original Score; Original Song; Documentary Feature; Documentary Short Subject; Sound Mixing; Sound Editing; Visual Effects; Animated Feature and Short Film (Live Action).

(Source: http://www.womensmediacenter.com/)


On top of these alarming data, The Academy, thanked profusely and repeatedly at every Oscar Awards ceremony, has been a bevy of mostly white, mostly male voting members, with a median age of 62. And, if we had any doubt about Hollywood’s massive failure to recognize racial and gender diversity, we need look no further than the actors nominated for an Oscar in 2016 – all white. 

Time for change. In January, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences held an emergency meeting to approve some measures that will immediately help them come closer to their goal of doubling the number of women and racially diverse members by 2020. Still, if we tune in later this evening, we will not see Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, or Spike Lee. Chris Rock will host, and many of us are counting on him to elaborate on his Tweet following the announcement of the nominees back in January:

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 10.21.53 AM

Can movie-goers do anything to help?  Sure we can. For instance, we can start paying attention to the representation of women in film, using an idea promoted by cartoonist Alison Bechdel almost thirty years ago in The Rule. Hardly revolutionary, Bechdel’s cartoon character asks three simple questions before deciding if she should see a movie. Essentially, it’s a reality check:

The Bechdel Test

  1. Are there two or more women in it who have names?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

34585797_d7fd14edfbAt first blush, what has become known as The Bechdel Test sets the bar low, but not low enough for all the 2016 Oscar nominees for Best Motion Picture to reach. How about The Big Short? Fail. Revenant? Fail. Bridge of Spies? Fail. Mind you, over half of the nominations pass the test – Spotlight, The Martian, Brooklyn, Room and Mad Max:FuryRoad. Some progress – but not enough, so when  film-award season passes, it is important to keep talking about race and gender. Why? Because the movies can be so much more than diversions, with immense capacity to shape and reflect the human experience – all of it.  All of it. As Megan Kearns writes,

We need to see women of different races, classes, sexualities and women with abled as well as disabled bodies. We must demand to see more films featuring strong, intelligent complex women living life on their own terms, whose lives don’t revolve around men. We also need to recognize films featuring women and created by women in awards shows.

In 1992, “the year of the woman” – yes, we got a whole year –  Barbra Streisand gave a speech about Women in Film. Acutely aware of how language provides insight into how women are viewed in a male-dominated world, she offered this:

“A man is commanding – a woman is demanding.
A man is forceful – a woman is pushy.
A man is uncompromising – a woman is a ballbreaker.
A man is a perfectionist – a woman’s a pain in the ass.
He’s assertive – she’s aggressive.
He strategizes – she manipulates.
He shows leadership – she’s controlling.
He’s committed – she’s obsessed.
He’s persevering – she’s relentless.
He sticks to his guns – she’s stubborn.
If a man wants to get it right, he’s looked up to and respected.
If a woman wants to get it right, she’s difficult and impossible.”

In 2016 do her words still resonate? As a woman and as the mother of a daughter, I would like to believe – to know for sure – that we have come a long way, baby. I would like to tell my daughter that she moves in a world where masculine clichés are not foisted upon boys and men, where a woman as Best Director of a motion picture is not an anomaly. I know better. What Streisand said in 1992 still rings true.


Considering women in the movie industry, in independent film and in Hollywood, I find myself thinking back to 2008 and then-Senator Hillary Clinton’s concession of the Democratic primary to Barack Obama.

To the millions who voted for her, she had this to say. She may as well have been talking to the Academy:

As we gather here today, the 50th woman to leave this Earth is orbiting overhead. If we can blast 50 women into space, we will someday launch a woman into the White House . . . Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.

Of course it is what we want – an easier path from the classroom to the boardroom, from the state house to the White house, from the small screen to the big screen, from on-screen to behind the scene.  And how I wanted to believe her, that there was more light shining through, that the path would be easier for all of us. Almost a decade later with Hillary back in the spotlight and in the throes of a battle for the Democratic Presidential Nomination, I’m not so sure, recalling clearly something I read before she announced her candidacy:

When she’s herself – a woman with formidable intelligence, years of experience, and powerful connections – America can’t stand her.

It’s Hollywood.

Enjoy the show.