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Women Working Behind-the-Scenes Are Still Getting Shafted at the Oscars

According to an annual study​ from the Women's Media Center, only 20 percent of all the nominations for non-acting awards went to women this year.

by Brian Moylan
Jan 30 2017, 10:22pm

Photo by Ivan Bandura via Wikimedia

The 2017 Academy Awards will celebrate a number of strong performances from actresses who helmed some of the year's best films, like Hidden Figures, in which the three black women helped launch a man into space; Arrival, where a woman unlocked the mystery behind an alien invasion; and Jackie, a movie about a former debutant who solidified her husband's presidential legacy after his traumatic murder. But even though there were a lot of women to celebrate on-screen, Oscar nominations for women behind-the-scenes dropped by 2 percent from 2015, according to a new study from the Women's Media Center.   

The annual study concludes that this year's nominations for women in the non-acting categories account for only 20 percent of all nominations. This year also lacks any women nominees for Best Director, Screenwriter, or Cinematography. Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to win the Oscar for Best Director for The Hurt Locker, and only three other women (Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, and Sofia Coppola) have ever been nominated.

"In the crucial behind-the-scenes, non-acting roles, our investigation shows that what you see is 80 percent of all nominees are men," Julie Burton, president of the Women's Media Center, said in a press release. "Four out of five nominees are men—meaning male voices and perspectives are largely responsible for what we see on screen."

Another study released earlier this month from San Diego State's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film pointed out a similar trend when it looked into participation on the 250 top grossing movies that year. The study found that the overall percentage of women working off camera on the year's top films had also dropped by 2 percent from 2015. The last time it was that low was in 1998.

"In 2016, women comprised 17 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films," the annual study found.

"Clearly, women cannot get through the door, and if they cannot get through the door, they cannot be recognized—and rewarded—for their excellence and impact," Burton said. "The perspectives, experience, and voices of more than half the population deserve an equal seat at the table."

Despite that, there were some small measures of progress this year in the Oscar nominations. The most prestigious award—Best Picture—holds the largest number of female nominees, with nine women listed as producers on the nine films up for the award. Dede Gardner was nominated for the fourth time in a row as a Best Picture producer, this year for Moonlight. Kimberly Steward, a producer nominated for her work on Manchester by the Sea, is only the second African American woman nominated in the category, coming after to Oprah Winfrey.

Also breaking barriers were Joi McMillon, a co-editor for Moonlight, who is the first African American woman ever nominated in the Best Editing category, and Mica Levi, the composer of Jackie, who is the first woman nominated in that category in 16 years.

This year, at least, there was a fitting improvement in terms of race, with four of the five nominees for Best Documentary directed by black auteurs, and three of the five nominees for Best Supporting Actress going to actresses of color, namely Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, and Naomie Harris. Moonlight, a film about a gay black man growing up in Miami, is also a frontrunner with eight nominations, including in Best Picture.

We wish all of these women the best of luck at this year's ceremony, slated for February 26, and hope that those manning the red carpet ask them about their achievements, rather than what they're wearing.