On gender equality, Oscars, and great female performances

09 Apr

I made a list on Letterboxd recently where I picked my favorite movie nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars each year, as well as ranked the other nominees. Obviously, I skipped years where I haven’t seen at least two of the nominated movies. As I’m still a relative newbie to the world of film, there’s a lot that I haven’t seen, but I still ended up with 27 years where I had seen multiple Best Picture nominees, which is more than I had expected. Since it was a fun exercise, I went ahead and did the same for Best Actor. 22 years for that one. Not too shabby.

Then on to Best Actress, and a disappointing 14 years where I’ve seen at least two Oscar nominees. For 8 of those 14 years, I’ve only seen the bare minimum of two.

What does this mean, then? That what the Academy finds appealing when it comes to movies about women is not the same as what I’m drawn toward? Maybe. Or it could be a symptom of the fact that I don’t tend to gravitate toward movies about women in general.

Is this bad?

I seem to be stumbling upon a lot of writing and works on subjects of gender inequality and feminism lately, whether it’s a gaming website explaining why they won’t back down on the subject of misogyny in video gaming or a tumblr dedicated to showcasing bizarre examples of female anatomy in comic books (somewhat NSFW). I won’t pretend to be fully immersed in these issues, but I do feel they are a problem – a big one at that – and something worth devoting time to at least read about every now and then. The same goes for any kind of discrimination, whether it’s based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or what have you.

In particular, what I find worrying is the notion that male is the standard. The norm. The default. This is prevalent in movies too. On the viewer side of things, we have the thing where films about females are often automatically dismissed as “chick flicks”, whereas films with a clearly male perspective are somehow thought of as “for everyone.” Production-wise, there’s the notable lack of female directors and screenwriters compared to males, not to mention the short shelf-life of female actors – once you’re not young and hot any more, it will be harder to get good roles. Compare this to the guys: Brad Pitt is 49 years old, Johnny Depp is 49, George Clooney is 51, and Tom Cruise is 50. Are there any women in Hollywood of that age with as much fame and star power as them? Sandra Bullock (48) perhaps, but after that it’s slim pickings. That’s not even getting into an issue I myself keep wrestling with all the time: the word “actress” itself. Is it okay to use the word? If we have a specific word to refer to female actors, doesn’t that imply that male actors – generally referred to as just “actors” – are indeed the norm? So is using the word “actress” just perpetuating the problem? I feel like maybe it is, and that using “female actor” and “male actor” is no problem, so I tend to opt for the latter myself.

Because in a post on great female performances, why not a pic of Meryl Streep?

Because in a post on great female performances, why not a pic of Meryl Streep?


I want to make an effort toward being a more well-rounded movie watcher. I’m not always doing everything I can towards that goal – I still watch way more contemporary films than old ones, for instance – but this recently uncovered Oscars-related gender difference is bothering me in particular. Not because the Academy is to be trusted with recognizing greatness – because that’s not really their thing anyway – but perhaps because even when they turn their eyes toward female actors, they’re still not exactly concerned with rewarding strong female characters, or movies about them, as such. A portion of the performances they nominate for Best Actress can be more accurately described as major supporting roles for male leads. And even then I’m lagging behind in my watching of them.

I’m planning on filling in the blanks as far as Best Actress nominees go anyway. I need to do more, though. Especially for my sanity. After some brief examination of AMPAS’ Best Actress nominated movies stretching back to 1990 (see, I told you I lean contemporary), it’s predominantly important-sounding period biopics. Not saying that these can’t be great films, but diversity is good.

This is where you can help out. I’m open for suggestions of great female lead performances that were not nominated at the Oscars. Preferably undisputed lead roles. If the movie itself is great too, that’s even better. The films don’t have to be new, or American, or anything, really; what matters is that the central performance is a great one.

What are some of your favorite female lead performances NOT nominated at the Oscars?


Posted by on 9 April, 2013 in Misc., Oscars


Tags: , , , ,

15 responses to “On gender equality, Oscars, and great female performances

  1. mettemk

    9 April, 2013 at 17:18

    Very cool post, Emil, the gender issue is on my mind almost constantly and I too feel bad for not having watched many of the “greatest” female performances on film. Often when I read lists of favourite male and favourite female performances, I know almost none of the female ones.

    • Emil

      9 April, 2013 at 17:28

      I had a similar reaction just by looking through the Oscar nominees in Best Actress. Even as recently as the 90s, there are many names I don’t even recognize. Like, who’s Laura Dern? Who’s Stockard Channing? Who’s Joanne Woodward? I feel pretty stupid looking through this. It feels like I should know who these people are.

      But then the spotlight is always pointed at the males, so maybe I’m only partly to blame for my ignorance.

      • Squasher88

        9 April, 2013 at 18:07

        Yes sir, you should definitely know who Laura Dern, Stockard Channing and Joanne Woodward are!! You have your work cut out for you.

        Some suggestions:
        Li Gong in Raise the Red Lantern
        Nicole Kidman in To Die For
        Angelina Jolie in A Might Heart
        Uma Thurman in Kill Bill
        Since you don’t know who Stockard Channing is, you need to watch Grease!

        It’s an Oscar-winning role, but you should also check out Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve. She was absolutely fantastic.

        • Emil

          9 April, 2013 at 18:57

          Oh, damn. I do know Channing, then. Just not by name. I have indeed seen Grease, as well as To Die For (awesome performance by Kidman, agreed!) and Kill Bill.

          The other films are all on my radar already, but I’ll make a special note to check out The Three Faces of Eve at some point. Thanks for the suggestions!

          • Squasher88

            10 April, 2013 at 00:21

            Oh, and you must know Laura Dern from Jurassic Park, no?

            • Emil

              10 April, 2013 at 07:45

              That I do, yeah. From Recount too. She was great in that one.

              And for the trifecta, I’ve seen Woodward too in Philadelphia.

              This still highlights a problem, though: none of these women have remained in the spotlight to the same degree that male actors of similar ages and levels of awards attention have.

      • mettemk

        30 April, 2013 at 17:24

        Yes, I agree on that.

  2. Mr Rumsey

    10 April, 2013 at 12:59

    Great post here, and it’s something which troubles me often as well.
    A couple of actresses which spring to mind alongside Bullock would be Helena Bonham Carter (46), Nicole Kidman (45), and Julianne Moore (52), but your point is definitely very relevant.

    • Emil

      10 April, 2013 at 18:28

      Those are all great actors for sure, but I think it’s fair to say that they’re not at quite the same level of fame – at least not mainstrem-wise – as Clooney, Pitt and co.. Maybe a case could be made for Kidman…

      Thank you for the kind words!

  3. Brittani

    10 April, 2013 at 15:49

    Great post on an interesting topic. As far as great female performances not nominated for an Oscar. Evan Rachel Wood in Thirteen is one that comes to mind automatically. That’s one of the best performances from a young actress that I’ve ever seen.

    • Emil

      10 April, 2013 at 18:30

      Definitely a great performance, yeah. I’m a fan of Wood, and I hope she’ll find more roles as good as that one in the future.

  4. Alex Withrow

    10 April, 2013 at 23:19

    Great essay here. Of my Top 10 Female Performances of All Time, 5 received little to no awards attention, and definitely no Oscar consideration. Those are:

    Harriet Andersson – Through a Glass Darkly
    Bibi Andersson – Persona
    Catherine Deneuve – Belle de Jour
    Juliette Binoche – Blue
    Rosario Dawson – Descent

    Also like to include most any female performance in a Bergman film. Shame they never got more love.

    • Emil

      11 April, 2013 at 07:21

      Thank you!

      Amazingly, I’ve seen three of those: the Bergmans and Blue. All three are strong performances indeed. I’ve been meaning to check out Belle de Jour ever since I first saw Deneuve in Repulsion, and Descent has been on my radar for a while too.

  5. Nostra

    18 April, 2013 at 15:52

    There are tons of great female performances, but I’m not great at making lists. On the subject of the way women are depicted in the media I watched this interesting documentary a while ago, which might be worth checking out called Miss Representation. You can find my review on it here:

    • Emil

      18 April, 2013 at 17:32

      Thanks for the tip, Nostra. I’ll try to check it out at some point. It sounds interesting!


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