regular-article-logo Tuesday, 03 October 2023

Best director Oscar nominations are all male, yet again

Academy Awards bets are open but a man will definitely win the Best Director prize

Deutsche Welle Published 11.03.23, 04:34 PM
Jane Campion won the award for Best Director in 2022.

Jane Campion won the award for Best Director in 2022. Deutsche Welle

Back in 2018, Natalie Portman famously took a jab at the lack of female representation as she introduced the Golden Globe in the best director category: "Here are the all-male nominees," she said, before naming the list of filmmakers, which then included Martin McDonagh for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and Steven Spielberg for "The Post."

When the Academy Award for the same category is announced on March 12, the presenter could easily use Portman's line again. It would also feel like deja vu, as both McDonagh and Spielberg are once again among the all-male nominees for "The Banshees of Inisherin" and "The Fabelmans" respectively.


The shortlist also includes directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert ("Everything Everywhere All at Once"), Todd Field ("Tar") and Ruben Ostlund ("Triangle of Sadness").

Regression after a two-year streak

After women filmmakers won the award over two consecutive years — with Chloe Zhao ("Nomadland") in 2021 and Jane Campion ("The Power of the Dog") in 2022 — not even one woman was included on this year's shortlist.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences faced backlash after the nominees were unveiled in January, with critics expressing outrage that all women had been snubbed.

"Once again, Academy voters have shown that they don't value women's voices, shutting us out of the Best Director nominations. An Academy Award is more than a gold statue, it's a career accelerator that can lead to continued work and increased compensation," said Hollywood advocacy organization Women in Film in a statement.

Chloe Zhao won the Best Director Oscar in 2021

Chloe Zhao won the Best Director Oscar in 2021 Deutsche Welle

The organization pointed out different names of talented women directors whose works could have been recognized for the 2023 awards, including Sarah Polley ("Women Talking"), Gina Prince-Bythewood ("The Woman King"), Maria Schrader ("She Said"), Chinonye Chukwu ("Till") and Charlotte Wells ("Aftersun").

Seven women have been nominated for Best Director in the Academy Award's entire history; three of them went on to win the award, with Kathryn Bigelow preceding Campion and Zhao with her 2009 film, "The Hurt Locker."

A portrait of the typical Oscar-nominee

Following the backlash, DW's data analysis team looked into the dominant characteristics of the filmmakers who have won the directing Oscar throughout the award's history.

Three out of four of them are American; 97% are male, and more than a quarter of the nominated directors have won in the category more than once. In addition, 96% of the winning films are dramas (although some of these works combine different genres too).

Gabriel Rossman, a sociology professor at UCLA, is not surprised by those statistics, as the description basically represents the typical Hollywood director.

In an attempt to change that, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has created the Gold Fellowship, a program for women filmmakers.

But despite the efforts, Rossman remains critical of the Academy's role. The Oscars were originally "oriented to the mass audience," but according to the professor, they are increasingly becoming something "captured by insiders and directed to things that are only of interest to insiders."

The ratings speak volumes. Over the past decade, the Oscars have seen a steep downward trend. The 2021 ceremony drew an all-time low of 10.4 million US viewers. While last year's viewership numbers were slightly better, at around 15.4 million, one has to go back to 2014 to find the last time the show drew a US audience of more than 40 million. Rossman believes the Oscars are losing their mass audience because they are so obsessed with themselves.

Nominations unevenly distributed

Using the Academy's official database, DW's data analysis team also found that the best director nominations were unevenly distributed, crowning a select group of filmmakers only.

One fifth of all directors in the nominees' club received the nod at least three times, picking up half of all the nominations.

The director with the most nominations ever is William Wyler ("Ben-Hur," 1960), who garnered 12 nods, followed by Martin Scorsese and Billy Wilder who were both nominated eight times. Many more filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg, clinched seven nominations.

Since Oscar nominations have a strong impact on the success of a film at the box office, as found by researchers at Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg, this leads to a chicken and egg situation as to why some directors reap way more nominations than the others, points out Rossman.

As he says, one could perhaps believe "that these top directors really are just the most talented," and that they would be making the best movies even if the largest film budgets, top collaborators and everything else weren't at their immediate disposition.

"I think there's probably a little bit of truth to that, but not very much," adds Rossman. "Probably the main thing that's going on is that these top directors, precisely because they are the most famous, get access to the best projects."

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