Sunday, March 11, 2018

Seeing the Absence of Women

Of these 33 movies, three of them are about women.  ONE of them was directed by a woman--Kathryn Bigelow, and she remains the ONLY woman EVER to win an Oscar for Best Picture or Best Director.

  • 1975 The Godfather II
  • 1976 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • 1977  Rocky
  • 1978 Annie Hall
  • 1979 The Deer Hunter
  • 1980 Kramer vs. Kramer
  • 1981 Ordinary People
  • 1982 Chariots of Fire
  • 1983 Ghandi
  • 1984 Terms of Endearmen
  • 1985 Amadeus
  • 1986 Out of Africa 
  • 1987 Platoon
  • 1988 The Last Emperor
  • 1989 Rain Man
  • 1990 Driving Miss Daisy 
  • 1991 Dances with Wolves
  • 1992 The Silence of the Lambs
  • 1993 Unforgiven 
  • 1994 Schindler's List
  • 1995 Forrest Gump 
  • 1996 Braveheart
  • 1997 The English Patient
  • 1998 Titanic
  • 1999  Shakespeare in Love
  • 2000 American Beauty
  • 2001 Gladiator
  • 2002 A Beautiful Mind
  • 2003 Chicago
  • 2004 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • 2005 Million Dollar Baby  
  • 2006 Crash
  • 2007 The Departed
  • 2008 No Country for Old Men
  • 2009 Slumdog Millionaire
  • 2010 The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow--the first and only woman ever to have won an Oscar for Best Picture or Best Director)
  • 2011 The King's Speech
  • 2012 The Artist
  • 2013 Argo
  • 2014 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, African-American)
  • 2015 Birdman
  • 2016 Spotlight
  • 2017 Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, African-American)
  • 2018 The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, Mexican)
Why is the number of women directors so low?

A Google search of that question yields the following justifications:

1. The Academy selections reflect the reality of the film industry, and not the academy alone. (We didn't create the situation, we reflect it.)
2. "Most major film award organizations rarely recognize films directed by females as award-worthy." [ "Has A Woman Ever Won An Oscar for Best Picture?"]
3. The film industry rarely hires women to direct films.
4. "Films that are directed by women tend to be comedies or light dramas, which are not the types of films that often get nominated for Oscars." [Ibid.]
5. "While more women direct independent features, these are very often overlooked for major awards." [Ibid.]
6. The category for Best Director only supports five nominees in any given year. (What are the chances that woman will make the cut?)

This list of excuses sounds remarkably similar to an essay published this week, "From the Death Desk: Why M0st Obituaries Are Still of White Men." [NYT]

To summarize:
1. A lot of people die, and we can only publish obits about a few of them.
2. Choosing is a collaborative process. (Decisions were made by consensus--by a quorum of men, I'm assuming, though the editor wasn't specific on that point.)
3. "We're exclusive in the extreme." Due to space limitations. Why? What did you think he meant?
4. We necessarily have to focus on people that have "made a difference on the broad stage" and those whom we believe "will command the broadest interest."  In other words, like the Academy, their choices reflect broad cultural norms: a) Women are not seen to make a difference on the broad stage and b) No one cares about women anyway.
5. The credentials of privilege are an important part of our selection process: Curriculum Vitae and being well connected, for example.

In recognition of what has been, and apparently will continue to be, a formula in which women have always been and will continue to be overlooked (for the reasons enumerated above), the NYT has this week also published, "15 Remarkable Women We Overlooked in our Obituaries," by Amisha Padnani and Jessica Bennett. They will be extending that list every week to include more overlooked women, making this a regular new feature of the NYT.

You may be surprised to find, on this first list of 15 remarkable women, that the NYT had overlooked the painfully obvious Sylvia Plath, as well as their own New York native, photographer Diane Arbus; both of whom, I hasten to point out are listed beneath China's slain feminist, Qiu Jin (1875 - 1907) and Mary Eqing Outerbridge (1852-1886) who "established what may have been America's first tennis court." Talk about burying the lead!

And while I applaud this important step toward recognizing women, I was struck, as a long-time admirer of Diane Arbus, that her delinquent so-called obit did not actually celebrate her as an artist so much as it questioned her integrity and legitimacy as an artist.  (As if to say, What the hell are those disturbing photographs all about?!)

I think, if you are finally in a very delinquent manner deciding to honor someone's life, well then, fucking honor it.

What brilliant white male artist was ever referred to in his obit as the son of privilege, as the NYT refers to Arbus "the daughter of privilege"?

And what obit ever written about a famous white male artist reiterates all of the doubt and speculation cast upon him by his critics back in the day, and completely omits the perspective of the artist himself, or his proponents?

Because Diane Arbus very clearly writes in the long and eloquent Introduction to her first big published book of photographs about how, despite having grown up privileged, she has always felt very strange and different on the inside.

She found herself attracted as a photographer to what some people call freaks, because she felt that they appeared on the outside as outsiders the way she felt on the inside like an outsider.  If her subjects appear as outliers, alienated, or disturbed...Well, Arbus did kill herself, after all; a fact which, unlike other facts, did not go unremarked upon in the NYT's extremely delinquent obit.

Let's not confuse recognition of women with character assassination, however framed in honorifics.

Could anything be more insidious than to trot out all our overlooked greatness, only to bury it once again beneath a heap of critical scorn?

There is a place for thoughtful criticism. The artist's obit is not it.

The other 14 women fared better, on the whole, though I would say that the tone and treatment of the writing does not hold to the consistent level of dignity and respect that I associate with obituary writing.

Be that as it may, the positive side of this delinquent new obit list is that the identities, stories, and achievements of women are beginning to be recognized.

VISIBILITY of women--both dead and alive--will signal to our daughters and aspiring young women that we see them, and they will not necessarily be consigned to the dustheap of history, no matter how extraordinary their achievements, as other great women before them had been.

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