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.
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.