Movie

This year’s Oscar nominations point to roadblocks

Think of the handful of films you’ve seen in theatres recently. Unless you actually saw “Moonlight” — and don’t lie — the majority of what you saw was dominated by white, cisgender, heteronormative men both on and behind the screen.

“Men are hired and the stories that get greenlit for production are very male oriented. It’s a vicious cycle,” said Tula Goenka, a professor of television, radio and film, who has paved her own way through the male dominated industry as both an editor and documentary filmmaker.

This year’s non-acting Oscar nominees are 80 percent male. And while I’m not here to preach about burning the patriarchy — this is the wrong column for that — I am here to share my woes, and maybe even some professional input and statistical data for good measure.

I’m a female television, radio and film major whose long term goals include receiving an Oscar on stage from Meryl Streep and then celebrating with my fellow womanly Oscar-winning peers. Unfortunately, those goals, however unrealistic because of Streep, are further hindered when you start to look at how Hollywood ticks.

Only nine percent of the directors from 2015’s top 250 domestic grossing films were women, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, which compiles a yearly comprehensive study of women’s employment in the film industry entitled The Celluloid Ceiling. And to be blunt, there’s a long way to go until that ceiling shatters.

“The industry is about talent, but it’s also a lot about networking and getting your breaks,” Goenka said.

The men that permeate the business often win those breaks, as so clearly pictured in the San Diego study. Goenka referred to it as an “old boys club.” Unless you’re a pretty face on screen, girls usually aren’t welcome into the country club.

Even the films themselves show perspectives that are predominantly male. The Bechdel Test is a checklist meant to measure the presence of female characters in film. Movies must have at least two named women characters, have those characters talk to each other and they must talk about something other than a man to pass the test.

Some examples of test-failures you may recognize include “Deadpool,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” — which was even written by a woman — and “Manchester By the Sea.” And while clearly there are female-driven films that may not pass this test, it’s a good place to start to realize just how male-skewed our popular culture really is.

Despite the “No Girls Allowed” mentality that seems to be deeply embedded in American film culture, there is still hope. Portland-based stop-motion animation company Laika, the company behind “Coraline” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” embraces a diverse lead team that includes women.

Arianne Sutner, a producer on “Kubo,” explained Laika’s unique stand in the business in an interview with Variety magazine.

“The more diverse we can become, the richer the kinds of stories we can tell,” Sutner said.

And the proof is concrete — all of Laika’s films have certified fresh ratings from Rotten Tomatoes. Another difference, the studio embraces is its home base in Oregon rather than California. Oregon law offers protected maternity leave, something California doesn’t, which can shoo some women away from bothering to even try for higher positions in Hollywood. When supportive maternity-leave laws extinguish the fear of being ostracized for wanting to raise a family, the door can open that much further for woman wanting to make a name for themselves in the city of stars without sacrificing family life.

I’ve never shied away from a good challenge, and while the current presence of women in popular cinema has been reduced to supporting, managerial roles, there’s always room for a change. Hundreds of media’s most promising recruits graduate from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications every year, and the female students are no exception.

Women like Shonda Rhimes, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham and Mira Nire are keeping up with, if not surpassing, that “good old boys club,” inspiring female students to strive on.

“(These women) do very consciously think about telling women’s stories and hiring women. We have to help each other out,” Goenka said. “If we don’t tell our own stories, no one is going to do it. You need to tell your story, find your passion and keep pushing for it.”

Many years from now I hope I can share my story of passion and persistence. Meryl Streep handing me an Oscar included.

Lilly Stuecklen is a junior television, radio and film major. Her column appears weekly in Pulp. She can be reached on Twitter @Stuecks or by email at lsstueck@syr.edu.

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