Vote With Your Popcorn (Updated)
On Tuesday January 22nd, the Oscar nominations for the 2019 ceremony were announced. Amber Tamblyn shared her observations in an Instagram post:
No woman nominated for Best Director
No woman nominated for Cinematography
No woman nominated for Editing
No woman nominated for Music
One woman nominated for Adapted Screenplay
One woman nominated for Original Screenplay
I originally wrote about this in the context of the 2017 Oscars (keep scrolling for the original post). I certainly didn’t stumble upon this problem, but I’m simply pointing out it was an issue 2 years ago and it’s still an issue today.
Now IF you’re thinking that maybe women didn’t do a good job and that’s why they didn’t get nominated, then you need to read Amber’s caption:
I have more to say on this, which is now in an op-Ed for The Cut. Link in my bio. *Side note: please read some of the comments below and see how severe the systemic problem of inclusion truly is, but also, the perception of said problem. People here are saying “well maybe women just didn’t deserve to be nominated.” Deserving it is not the issue, guys. These award shows and their nominations reflect a much deeper and wider problem that demands your attention. And for those of you asking me to give examples of how women of all kinds of representations are left out, please read the latest Annenberg Institute Inclusion Initiative and be responsible for your own learning. (I say this only with the upmost love.) @inclusionists
Original Post (March 1, 2018 @8:40pm):
While I knew I lived in a Patriarchy, I didn’t quite realize the extent of it. Then the Oscars happened. Well, technically first the 2016 Presidential Election happened.
Listen, this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about this in a blog post and it’s not gonna be the last time, but it's important to set the stage.
The 2016 election woke women up. It was shocking to me that there were so many sexist opinions that people couldn't even acknowledge were sexist. It should not be shocking that the Women’s March was “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S history”, according to the Washington Post. I, along with 4,157,893 other people, were pissed.
The Oscars seemed to the first big pop culture moment after that (if I missed something, I apologize, It was a tough year, also I’m not a historian..yet). I always look forward to this seemingly benign event. I love the glamour of it all and I enjoy trying to see as many of the nominated movies as I can. I want to have an educated opinion about the gorgeous dresses and the awards themselves.
Luckily, the local theatre had a promotion to see all the Best Picture nominees for one low price of $35. This was magical in my unemployed eyes. While not that much different from watching TV all day long, at the very least I was off my couch and out of the apartment. Check and Check.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE 2017 OSCARS
Basking in my new feminist glow, I was very excited to see Hidden Figures (have I ever told you how much I enjoyed Math Camp when I was younger?) and La La Land (because you know…musicals). But other than that the excitement stopped there.
Of the 9 Best Picture nominees, only 2 told a story that centered around women (Hidden Figures and Arrival). Not only were women just deemed not good enough to be President, their stories were also not considered Oscar worthy. The Patriarchy is everywhere and even the Oscars were ruined.
And if you think I’m being too dramatic then please take a note at the 2017 Best Picture nominees:
La La Land - about a white couple, written by a white man, directed by same white man
Arrival - about a white woman, adapted by a white man from a book written by an Asian man, directed by a white man
Lion - about an Indian man, adapted by a white man from a book written by an Indian man, directed by a white man
Hell or High Water - about white men, written by a white man, directed by a white man
Hidden Figures - about three black women, adapted by a white man and a white woman from a book written by a black woman, directed by a white man
Moonlight - about a black gay man, written by two black men, directed by a black man
Hacksaw Ridge - about a white man, written by two white men, directed by a white man
Manchester by The Sea - about a white man, written by a white man, directed by the same white man
Fences - about a black couple, written by a black man, directed by a black man
Look at all the white men. Not only is a movie about a man more likely to be nominated for an Oscar, the movies are also written by white men and told by white men. WTF? There's a reason #Oscarssowhite was trending last year on Twitter and continues to be a social movement.
This is nothing shocking to anyone that works in the entertainment industry, but as someone who consumes a whole lot of the entertainment I decided I to put a stake in the ground.
From that point, I decided I was going to vote with my popcorn which is my clever way of saying I’m only going to pay for movies that the tell stories I want to see more of told by people who don’t normally have a voice.
Did you know the reason there aren’t more movies about women or minorities is that studio executives think people don’t want to see them? An article in Business Insider pointed out that in the past few decades there have been 2 Batman franchises and 3 Spiderman reboots! 2017 gave us the FIRST Wonder Woman movie. And all those movie executives are bananas because it became the highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time. 2018 brought us Black Panther, which as of this writing, is on track to hit over $1 billion at the box office!
Movie Executives are out of their mind to think people don't want to watch movies about people other than white men and I want to do my part to prove it to them by seeing the movies they don’t think should be told. So I came up with a 3 prong test to help determine which movies to see.
Note: I gave my permission to watch whatever on TV or Netflix. I know ratings are important their but it’s a bill that I’m paying regardless. This experiment was for movies that I was directly paying money to see.
1 - IT PASSES THE BECHDEL TEST
The Bechdel test is very simple. To pass all it needs is (1) two women in a film (2) that talk to each other (3) about something other than a man.
The idea of the Bechdel test came from Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist, who was commenting on the lack of roles of women in film. That means, unfortunately, the Bechdel test is not an official metric that gets tracked, but while researching for this article I saw some quotes saying about 50% of movies pass this test.
Why is this important? Well, if 50% of movies fail this test that means that in half of all movies two women aren’t even speaking to each other or if they are it’s only about men, typically in a girlfriend/wife role without their own backstory. This just isn’t reality. I want you to really think about this for a minute. All it takes to pass this test is for two women to say “Good Morning!” to each other and 50% of movies do not even show this representation. Women exist in movies to support men - as wives, girlfriends, secretaries - and rarely have a backstory.
This test can be deceiving too. It’s easy to think that just because a movie has a lot of women in it or a woman in the center of the story that it would easily pass the test. While a bunch of morons made a big fuss over too many women in their beloved Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I actually don’t think this passed the test as so much of the dialogue centered around the take down of Kylo Ren, a man in case that wasn't obvious. With all those women and all that fierceness there wasn’t one line to the effect of “Go kick ass, sister!” (let me know where to submit all future screenplays). And this isn't all that surprising when you learn that Star Wars: The Last Jedi was written by a man and directed by a man.
Even though the Bechdel test is not officially tracked, for all my fellow data geeks, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media developed software to analyze audio and video media content. Here are some of their most recent eye opening findings:
Male characters received two times the amount of screen time as female characters in 2015 (28.5% compared to 16.0%).
In films with a male lead, male characters appear on screen nearly three times more often than female characters (34.5% compared to 12.9%).
In films with a female lead, male characters appear about the same amount of time as female characters (24.0% compared to 22.6%). This means that even when women are featured in a leading role, male characters appear on screen just as often.
In films with male leads, male characters spoke three times more often than female characters (33.1% compared to 9.8%).
In films with female leads, male characters spoke about the same amount as female characters (23.9% compared to 26%). In other words, in films with male leads, male characters dominate the speaking time, but in films with female leads, men speak as much as women.
In films with both male and female co-leads, male characters spoke far more often than female characters. Male characters spoke 25.5% of the time compared to 16.7% for female characters.
I am simply not ok with this.
2- IT PASSES THE INTERSECTIONAL BECHDEL TEST
This isn’t just about women. There are so many people whose stories are never told. So take the Bechdel Test and substitute “women” for African Americans, Muslims, Gays, anyone with a disability, anyone whose story normally isn’t told. I want to see these stories!
3- THERE IS DIVERSITY ON THE CREATIVE TEAM
It’s not just about the stories but who is telling the story. I’m looking for diversity on the Creativity Team, mainly who’s writing the screenplay and directing. I gotta tell you that I didn’t relate to the mother-daughter relationship in Lady Bird but there was a magical quality to it. A story written by a woman, directed by a woman, about a mother and a daughter. It’s more natural that way.
And this is an either or thing. For me, they only need to pass one prong of my test. Is there a traditional movie that’s being told by someone not normally given a chance? Great! Where’s my popcorn.
I do plan on seeing everything by Ava DuVernay this year and the white guy who is so boring he can't come up with a plot for Bat Girl can keep it. I am here for the version told by Roxanne Gay.
To wrap this up, I totally invite you to join me in this challenge and if this isn’t your thing then start your own! Voting with your dollars (I believe "Ethical Consumerism" is the technical term) makes just as much of an impact as boycott but is way more high vibe because you’re spending money on things you feel good about supporting.
And let’s be honest with each other. This isn’t a “challenge” in the sense that there’s a winner or a loser or you can somehow screw up the challenge and you're out. Most likely you’re not going to know if something passes the Bechdel test until you see it. Though Hint #1 - if the trailer doesn’t pass the test, the movie most likely won’t either. And Hint #2 - looking up the creative team before your tickets is totally doable.
I plan to document all my greasy, buttery, popcorn adventures on Twitter so I invite you to follow me over there, if you're not already, and share your ethical consumerism adventures with me.
And I almost forgot, the one exception to my three prong rule: any Oscar nominated movie is far game. Again, I want to be up on the glitz and the craft for the special night.
And one last thing, because you’ve gotten all way through this post, almost as long as the Oscar Ceremony itself, here is your 2018 Oscars Ballot to use for the big night. Cheers and go Lady Bird!
Photo credits: Thomas Charters on Unsplash