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The nominations for the 89th annual Academy Awards were announced this morning and no women were nominated in the category of best director — again.
The nominees were Denis Villeneuve (Arrival), Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight). Jenkins is the only man of color nominated this year.
Since the first Academy Awards in 1929, only four women have been nominated for the best director Oscar: Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (The Piano), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker). Bigelow is the only woman to have won the award, back in 2010, making the ratio of female to male winners 1 to 88.
The fact that a woman hasn’t been nominated for the best director Oscar in seven years falls in line with the systemic gender equality problems Hollywood has not only in regard to award show representation, but also in opportunities for female filmmakers.
The lack of representation is an issue that has reverberated throughout Hollywood for decades and, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be improving. (It should also be noted that women of color suffer less representation than white women.) Out of the top 250 highest-grossing films at the domestic box office in 2016, only 7 percent had female directors, according to a study released by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. That figure is 2 percentage points lower than in 2015, when female directors helmed 9 percent of the 250 highest-grossing domestic titles. The news becomes more dismal when one looks at the first year this Celluloid Ceiling report was researched. In 1998, the first study showed that the percentage of women directors was 9 percent, meaning from 1998 to 2016 the number has gone down.
These numbers matter to gender equality, beyond just the role of director. The same study, as The Hollywood Reporter pointed out earlier this month, analyzed the top 500 films and showed a correlation between female directors and the gender of other crewmembers. On films with female directors, women accounted for 64 percent of writers. That number dropped to 9 percent on films with exclusively male directors.
Even when films are directed by women, they often face challenges from the outset. As online film-financing hub Slated discovered, low-budget films (under $25 million) directed by women were, on average, released on a third as many screens as films directed by men. This caused a lower return on investment for these films, in contrast with films that had budgets of more than $25 million, where films produced by, written by or starring women actually had a higher average return on investment than those by men.
Resources to help foster gender equality and promote women filmmakers are in place, like Women in Film and Women at Sundance’s Female Filmmakers Initiative as well as The Alice List, but it’s clear that the fight for equality in Hollywood is far, far from over.
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