In case we needed proof that the male perspective influences just about everything that comes out of Hollywood, here’s a collage of the protagonists from each of this year’s Best Picture nominees. Notice anything? (Hint: They’re all dudes.)
Now, we’re certainly fans of all these talented men (and admittedly, just a tad heartbroken at Benedict Cumberbatch’s recent wedding). With all the white-washing going on, we’re thrilled that at least one actor of color, the fabulous David Oyelowo, is getting his due, even if he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor. Bradley, Michael, Ellar, Ralph, Eddie, Miles — you’re all tops, too.
But…how come there’s not a single female protagonist in any of the films nominated for 2015 Best Picture?
There are a few explanations, starting with the fact that the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are predominantly male. (A rather depressing 2012 study by the Los Angeles Times found that 77% are men and a full 94% are white.) It’s a fact of human nature that people are drawn to things they know, that they can relate to. Hence…movies starring characters that look a lot like the voters? Those would be shoe-ins for Best Picture, naturally. Movies featuring, say, a woman battling early-onset Alzheimer’s, or a woman grappling with the loss of her mother? Not so much.
Another explanation: Not many movies feature a female protagonist in the first place. So the pool from which to draw a “Best Picture” nominee is quite small. To make a Hollywood movie, especially one of blockbuster proportions, requires big money. The people who finance movies — from professional investors to major studio executives — are primarily men. Are they willing to gamble that much coin on female-centric films? Clearly not. In 2014, female characters made up just 23% of leads or co-leads in popular films, according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
Perhaps next year we’ll see a change. But, as researcher Martha Lauzen, cautioned in her recent interview with us, don’t expect progress to happen quickly. “The television and film industries are very large and do not change course overnight,” she said. “It can take decades and even lifetimes for significant change to occur.”
We’ll see more roles for women (both on the screen and behind-the-scenes) when the powers-that-be like studio heads and union leaders acknowledge that Hollywood has a gender problem. We’ll also see more opportunities when women (in general) control more money and can influence who and what goes into a movie. We can do our part now by supporting women’s film events like Athena Film Festival, and applauding programs like the Camp Citizen Jane that encourage girls to aspire to be filmmakers.
And in the meanwhile, we can enjoy the films nominated for Best Picture. But let’s save the popcorn for when we have a greater choice of flicks that better represent society as a whole.