It's early 2015 and the Academy has announced its Oscar nominations. No women nor African Americans were nominated in the directing and screenwriting categories. (Mexican director and screenwriter Alejandro González Iñárritu and co-screenwriters were nominated for Birdman - or there would have been no color at all.)
Many commentators have expressed their opinions on blogs, in articles, on Facebook, and so on. Among these opinions is a line of reasoning that goes something like this: The Academy nominated the best talent. If there didn't happen to be any woman or African Americans, then so be it.
While, on the one hand, this opinion might appear to be perfectly sound, I would argue that it misses the point entirely. Why aren't there more women, African Americans, Asians, etc., working in Hollywood in the first place? Why aren't they involved in the writing and directing of the top films for the Academy to choose from? Our culture is diverse, why don't films reflect that? Correspondingly, why aren't the films that women and minorities write, direct, and star in (a) getting made or (b) considered the top films?
Scholars of film history will remember that women, for example, were a large part of building the foundation for the film industry in the early decades of the twentieth century. Dorothy Arzner, Anita Loos, Mae West, Frances Marion, June Mathis, Bess Meredyth, Mary Pickford, and many others produced, wrote, and/or directed many of the best and most memorable pictures of the era.
Once sound was introduced and the movies were seen as a respectable, enviable profession, women were pushed into the margins as the documentary Without Lying Down recounts. Martha Lauzen's Celluoid Ceiling Report shows us that the statistics are no better today. In the top 250 films of 2013, women comprised only 6% of directors, 10% of writers, 15% of executive producers, 25% of producers, 17% of editors, and 3% of cinematographers.
Ironically, the Academy elected its first black president last year: Cheryl Boone Isaacs. In speaking to the AP, she stated, "In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members. And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories." But this statement doesn't really address the problem. In fact, it doesn't really say anything at all.
Of particular note was the oversight in terms of nominating Ava DuVernay as best director and David Oyelowo as best actor for Selma. Boone argued that Selma was nominated for best picture, which "showcases the talent of everyone involved in the production of the movie." But, as Aviva Shen states, "Selma‘s Best Picture nomination made Ava DuVernay the ninth woman to direct a Best Picture nominee yet be denied a Best Director nomination." In addition, some argue that Gillian Flynn's adaptation of her bestselling novel Gone Girl deserved a nomination. As Marlow Stern phrased it, "Flynn’s omission coupled with DuVernay’s meant that NO women were nominated in the directing and screenwriting categories this year. Ugh."
The Academy and its supporters cannot continue to uphold the male, mostly white cabal. No one can sincerely believe there are so many coincidences and happenstances throughout Hollywood history. A real and systemic problem exists, and we call on the Academy to address it.