When it comes to Oscar nominations and Oscar wins in behind-the-scenes categories, there is an unmistakable glass ceiling. The interactive graphic below shows the women who have been nominated for a writing award (left) and the far fewer who have actually won (right).
oscars writing categories dominated by men
By Amanda Bates
Enrolling in the electronic media and film major at Towson University was an easy decision for Katie Biggins. With a growing interest in film, she was thrilled when she discovered the program after searching through Towson’s academic directory.
Biggins quickly noticed that many times she was the only woman in her class. And even more striking was the lack of female professors. Since transferring into the program, she has had only two.
“I’ve learned to pull my weight,” Biggins said. “I’m used to being the only female around. I’m used to having to make a name for myself.”
Biggins said she often feels she must work harder than her male classmates to prove herself to professors and her peers. While remaining optimistic, she worries about her future in the film industry given that the number of women in behind-the-scenes roles is low.
Oscars nominations -- one way of measuring progress (or lack thereof) in the film industry -- have followed a familiar script. Since 2000, the number of women who have been nominated for an Oscar in screenwriting has remained low. Men have been nominated 227 times, while women have only been nominated 33 times. Of the 30 women nominated, only five have actually won the Oscar for either adapted or original screenplay.
Since 2000, there has been no clear progress for women screenwriters being nominated for an Oscar. In fact, 2003 was the only year that both best original screenplay and adapted screenplay were awarded to women. In both 2006 and 2014, there were no women nominated in either screenwriting category.
Melissa Houghton, executive director of Women in Film and Video of Washington D.C., said she isn't surprised by the gender disparity in writing nominations. According to the Gina Davis Institute on Gender and Media, there are nearly five males working behind-the-scenes to every one female in Hollywood. Only 7 percent of directors, 13 percent of writers, and 20 percent of producers are female in the United States.
“In all categories women are dramatically underrepresented,” Houghton said.
The nonprofit Women in Film and Video has more than 900 members in all areas of screen-based media and offers programs to help career development in the industry. While there isn’t a clear answer as to why this gap exists, Houghton said discrimination is one key reason women are not more common in roles such as directing, film editing and screenwriting.
“I want to say that there are more opportunities for women now but that’s not through the studio system,” Houghton said.
Houghton said that studios still don’t feel confident providing large budgets to women filmmakers. This results in more women working on documentaries as independent filmmakers where they can raise their own funding.
“Women are rising in independent films because they can’t make it in the studio,” Houghton said. “But when men are rising in the independent films, studios want them.”
As the number of women working in independent films grows, this doesn’t mean that there is a clear path to the Oscars for female screenwriters.
Independent films, such as documentaries, rarely make it to the Oscars because they are less likely to be picked up by major Hollywood studios, Houghton said.
Studios focus on feature films, mostly for economic reasons, Houghton said. However, she believes that studios should “change the type of movies that are made,” or give more women the opportunity to work on feature films in an array of different genres, like action movies.
“It all starts with writing and there are a lot of women who want to write action movies,” Houghton said.
According to the Writers Guild of America, male writers accounted for almost 75 percent of industry employment in 2012. Additionally, men screenwriters outnumbered women screenwriters three to one in 2015.
“Who’s not looking at the numbers here?” Houghton said. “They don’t get to claim unconscious bias anymore.”
While the gender employment problem in Hollywood continues, Houghton said she is hopeful that women are finding alternative ways to success, and Oscar recognition does not make a writing career.
oscar-nominated female directors are a rarity
By Elaina Moradi
Melissa Silverstein dabbled in directing as a young woman before she founded Women and Hollywood, a website that educates, advocates and agitates for gender diversity in Hollywood and the global film industry.
“I believe women have great stories to tell,” Silverstein said. “I wanted to show that.”
A film's director can be seen as the CEO of a movie -- the person who calls all the shots and tries to bring a vision to life. While many women are in front of the camera, few have top roles behind it -- a gender disparity that has long been viewed as a problem by Silverstein and her peers.
Silverstein seems to have gotten her point across to the 1.2 million global unique users that have visited the website’s blog. The increased attention, however, hasn't led to an increase in female directors who are recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences annually at the Oscars.
An analysis of Oscar nominations from 2000-2015 shows that only two of 81 women were up for best director.
In 2003, Sofia Coppola was nominated for best director for her work in Lost in Translation, but lost to a male counterpart. The next woman nominated was in 2009. Kathryn Bigelow won for directing The Hurt Locker -- the first-ever win for a female director.
In the past 15 years only seven of the Oscar nominations for best picture were directed by women, two of which were Bigelow. In these movies that had female directors, few other production positions were held by women.
“There’s a pipeline to the top and women fall through the holes,” Silverstein said. “There are a variety of reasons why there aren’t a lot of female directors in Hollywood and the first one is sexism, plain and simple.”
Added Silverstein: “You can look at the lack of female directors and make judgments about the film industry or you can discuss it as a larger picture of our whole culture. Even when female directors do emerge they’re seen as hardworking while male directors are seen as visionary geniuses.”
Oscar nominations is just one metric of success in Hollywood. Melissa Houghton, executive director of Women in Film and Video of Washington D.C., said women often earn plaudits in other areas.
“Most films that are recognized by the Oscars have large studios behind them,” Houghton said. “Women are more likely to do independent films and documentaries and studios don’t generally choose to support those kinds of films meaning they don’t commission those films.”
Women in Film and Video is designed to help women who want to be in the film industry. The nonprofit organization holds networking events, educational programs and professional development workshops that promote equal opportunities for women who want to pursue a career in film.
“At WIFV (Women in Film & Video) we know how hard it is to be creative,” said Houghton. “We’re here to be a support mechanism, not to pat you on the head, but to kick you in the butt.”
Programs like Houghton’s are designed to begin to close the gender gap, not just in director positions, but in the film industry as a whole.
In Silverstein’s book, “In Her Voice: Women Directors Talk Directing,” she touches on how female directors have persevered in order to remain in the film industry and make a name for themselves.
“All of the women I talked to said they just never gave up,” said Silverstein. “They said they didn’t play by the rules, they made their own rules and their own movies.”
Added Silverstein: “Film editing fulfills a vision. There are a lot of women in film editing because women are good at giving people what they ask for.”
Despite the lack of women in directorial positions, organizations like Women in Film and Video and Women and Hollywood are giving women who want to pursue a career in film hope.
“The thing I worry about,” said Houghton, “is the lack of diverse voices in media, which makes us poorer.”
zero nominees: The oscars number that tells a story
By Jasmine Dobbins
It’s no secret that the Oscars have a diversity problem. In 2016, prestigious and well-respected actors and actresses from across the Hollywood spectrum boycotted the Academy Awards after another year in which the top awards nominees were all white.
#OscarsSoWhite became a huge phenomenon on and off social media. It’s hard to show direct causation, but the best acting nominee list for 2017 was more racially diverse than in previous years.
Still, there are several Oscars categories where less progress has been made. Behind-the-scenes positions such as director and writer are predominantly male – reflected in the few women who are nominated year after year at the Oscars.
An analysis of the Oscars database from 2000 to 2014 found that fewer than 10 percent of nominees in the production categories are women. Strikingly, not a single woman won – or was even nominated for – an Academy Award in cinematography.
Elyse Mueller, a visual storyteller with experience in cinematography, among other roles, said she isn't surprised by the dismal Oscars statistics.
“I think it stems from the fact that the type of people responsible for hiring for these positions are old white men, so of course it’s natural for them to continue hiring men when it is already a male-dominated industry,” Mueller, said.
Mueller, for one, does not believe that the amount of women nominated for Oscars is an accurate representation of the interest among women in behind-the-scenes film roles.
“Many women have made a career out of this field -- it’s just that they are underrepresented," Mueller said. “If you take a man and woman going for the same position with the exact same level of credentials, it is more likely for them to go with the man.”
However, Mueller pointed out that most women within this industry have a higher chance of being involved with independent films than commercial blockbusters.
“It is known that women are typically more involved with lower-budget independent films, which are sometimes just as valuable as these largely-funded academy award nominated films,” Mueller said.
How can the cycle be broken?
“I think both women and men who are pushing for more diversity within these sort of films should continue to put more pressure on the big guns,” Mueller said. “Being consistent in having your voices heard and taking immediate action is sure to get the attention of the right person somewhere down the line."
Katarina Smith, editor and director of Gearshift Studios, a video-production company based in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, knows all too well what it feels like to be singled out because of her gender.
“Because I am a woman in a male-dominated profession, I tend to be seen as the cute girl next to a bunch of dudes,” Smith said.
Smith said that even with all of the credentials under her belt, she still sometimes has to prove to others that she is fit for production jobs.
“I do find it difficult to sell my strengths and talents due to the fact that many don't expect a young women to withhold the skill level that I do,” Smith said. “But I tend to let my work as well as my efforts speak for me.”
Smith said women deserve to have their stories told -- and they bring important skills to productions.
“Women bring style, grace and just a bit more brainpower at times," she said. "We think of the small things like continuity and basics needs on set."
Smith's advice to young women interested in film: “If you know what you want to do then do it. Research it. Indulge your life in nothing but it. Reach out to your alumni of your school. Stay active on campus and activities within your field. Volunteer. Intern. The money will come. But the skill will keep it going.”
film editing oscars is a male-dominated category
By Julie Podczaski
Gender diversity has long been an issue in Towson University's Department of Electronic Media & Film. Elsa Lankford, an associate professor in EMF, said few women register for her classes. And that's been consistent since she began at Towson in 2006.
“In my two production classes this semester, there are three females out of 18, and two out of 17," Lankford said. “There is definitely a gender gap.”
This gap starts in film classes and goes all the way to the top, where women in behind-the-scenes film roles such as director and editor are underrepresented, especially when it comes to Oscar nominations.
An analysis found that out of the 103 nominees for “Best Film Editing” at the Oscars from 2000-2015, a woman has only been nominated 15 times. Of those 15 times, Thelma Schoonmaker accounted for four of those nominations and won twice, once in 2004 for The Aviator and another time in 2006 for The Departed. Besides Schoonmakers’s two wins, the only other woman to win the category was Margaret Sixel in 2015 for Mad Max: Fury Road.
What's behind the gender disparity?
“I hear stereotypes about women not wanting to work with technology, but I don't believe that,” Lankford said. “I think that it's a lack of role models and awareness that these creative roles exist.”
The existence of the gender gap in film prompted Lankford to start the WAMM (Women and Minorities in Media) Festival.
“It is very important to have stories told with authentic voices and for people to be able to see themselves on screen,” Lankford said.
Kristen Yoonsoon Kim, a film critic who writes for Complex, GQ and Rolling Stone, said this disparity in Oscars nominations aligns with larger trends in lack of women in production roles. In an article Kim wrote for Complex, she cited research from a USC study on lack of diversity in film. Kim wrote: “Women behind the camera are even rarer. In 2014, only 1.9% of directors were women, with 11.2% women writers and 18.9% women producers. That means only two women directed movies from 2014's top 100, and 28 total between 2007–2014.”
In addition, Kim was quick to point out that it’s not just a women’s issue; it’s a diversity issue.
“From 2014, only five of the hundred directors were black, and from the whole 700-film pool, only 19 of the directors were Asian (with a single Asian female co-director),” Kim quoted the USC study as saying.
In an interview, Kim added that “Most of the people I know from the world of film criticism are men (white men, mostly) -- which, then, yes affects the crowds at screenings, festivals, industry events, etc.. But on the film side too, there are so few women compared to men behind the camera.”
During her trip to Baltimore for the Maryland Film Festival, Kim also said that while the films and types of stories told at the festival were so creative and varied, there was still a noticeable lack of diversity in the festival’s attendance.
“It’s not that I didn’t feel welcome there—because I really did—but this is reflective of a bigger issue in the arts, especially in film,” Kim said. “It’s always an overwhelmingly white crowd—and made even more startling when it takes place in a city like Baltimore.”
While the film industry has made progress, it still seems like there’s more work to be done at the local, state and national levels.
“Hopefully as the student body working in audio and film diversifies, we can continue to diversify (gender and race/ethnicity) our faculty in the department as well,” Lankford said. “For a while, there were only two females teaching in EMF. We've doubled that to four out of 14, but we still have some ways to go.”