Is This How We Fix The Oscars’ Problem With Women?

Director and producer Miranda Bailey on sexism in the industry and creating a female director category at the Oscars.

This is Wake-Up Call’s Hot Mic op-ed column. Today, director and producer Miranda Bailey, who runs the CherryPicks film criticism site, calls out the Oscars’ lack of female Best Director nominees — and proposes a solution.

This essay was As Told to Amanda Svachula.

After the lack of diversity at this year’s Golden Globes, I was so frustrated. I even wrote a piece calling the whole thing BS. So I couldn’t even really bring myself to follow the Academy. But then the Oscar nominations came out — and the nominees were just as white and male as ever in the Best Director category. Of course.

So many directors did amazing work this year, and they’re obviously very hard to choose from. I knew that the Oscar nominations would likely be heavily male in the Best Director category, but I thought that if any woman was going to be able to finagle her way in there, maybe it would be Greta Gerwig. She had already been nominated before — and Little Women is amazing. On top of that, Little Women and The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang, were both nominated for the Best Picture category. You can’t have a Best Picture without a director… or so you’d think.

Sexism in Hollywood is systematic, even in the field of directing. When many people think of a director, they first think of “he” — and then, “white he.” Obviously it’s hard for anyone (man, woman, child) to break into Hollywood. But it’s harder for women, it’s harder for people of color, and it’s the hardest for women of color.

Let me tell you what I mean. I was on a set recently, where the director, first assistant director, and lead character were all women — and mostly African American. The first assistant director and the director started arguing. One guy on set turned to another and said, “See, I told you, there’s too many of them on this set.” I told them: “Oh, do you mean too many of them — as in too many women?” He replied, “Yeah, I mean, look at it. It’s a catfight.”

Or, here’s another example that I love to tell people. I went to the Vail Film Festival a couple of years ago, and it was the first time the festival was focused on female directors. The Vail Daily came out with an edition, and there’s a picture of a director… and it’s a white man on the cover of the paper. This is where there’s a problem. Whoever chose the photo said, “Oh, this looks like a director, and put it on there.”

There are a ton of movies this year that I think are great and that were overlooked, but that was going to happen regardless of the filmmakers’ sex — because it’s all about money. And executives put money behind films made by men. Additionally, one of the reasons I started CherryPicks was to diversify the landscape of critics, who are the ones telling consumers what is worth their money.

Here’s a potential solution to the problem: What if there was a Best Female-Directed Film category? Think about it for a minute. I don’t want to be thought of as a female director. No one does. We want to be directors. But you need some sort of affirmative action to change things. If we don’t basically force the hand of Hollywood to acknowledge that we exist and that we’re good, then they won’t. If we had a female director category, then distributors would also be forced to think about putting money behind the female directors. So maybe it would be helpful.

But then the question becomes: Do we need a category for female composers? Do they need to do it for female…everything? That wouldn’t work, and make things more separate. So maybe we’ll have to scrap that.

As for the actual category, this year I think Sam Mendes of 1917 will win Best Director. 1917 was an incredible film — and what they did to make it look like it was one shot has never been done before. But for my imaginary Best Female-Directed Film category, I would pick Lulu Wang for The Farewell.

There is a growing desire for more diversity and more acknowledgment that there’s an equality problem, when it comes to people of color, women, and also the LBGTQ community. It won’t happen overnight — and it won’t be fixed if we don’t keep talking about it and remembering and acknowledging our own failures within the system. So until that happens… I’ll be imagining Lulu Wang is taking home the award Sunday night.

Follow Miranda Bailey on Twitter and Instagram, and check out CherryPicks.

This As Told To essay was edited and condensed.

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