Academy Award: Still a Men’s Club

Thursday’s announcement of the Academy Award nominees included nods to the usual suspects (Django Unchained, Argo, Lincoln and Silver Lining Playbook are among the nominees for best picture) and some surprises (such as Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow being snubbed for best director). However, the most noteworthy theme of this year’s list of nominations is, unsurprisingly, its lack of women.

Before delving into what we didn’t like about the nominations, a number of talented women did receive recognition. Notable nominees for best lead female actor include nine year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, the youngest nominee in Academy Awards history, for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Emanuelle Riva for her performance in Amour who, at age 85, takes the title of oldest Academy nominee.

Several documentaries directed and produced by women were also nominated: The Gatekeepers (producers include Estelle Fialon and Philippa Kowarsky) and Searching for Sugarman (co-produced by Nicole Stott) were among the nominees for best documentary feature. We were especially pleased to see The Invisible War, Kirby Dick’s heartbreaking account of sexual assault in the United States military, on the list—this film’s producers include Nicole Boxer-Keegan, Sarah Johnson Redlich, Abigail E. Disney, Maria Cuomo Cole, Geralyn Dreyfous, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Regina Kulik Scully and Amy Ziering. In the category of best documentary short, Inocente (co-directed by Andrea Nix Fine), Kings Point (dir. Sari Gilman), Mondays at Racine (dir. Cynthia Wade) and Open Heart (produced by Cori Shepherd Stern) were all nominated.

A number of women were also nominated in production design and set decoration, including Sarah Greenwood and Kate Spencer (Anna Karenina) Eve Stewart and Anna Lynch (Les Misérables) and Anna Pinnock (Life of Pi). Women also made up the majority of nominees in costume design: Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina) Joanna Johnston (Lincoln), Eiko Ishioka (Mirror Mirror) and Colleen Atwood (Snow White and the Huntsman).

It’s great to see these talented women rightly recognized for their work, but the fact that women nominees are almost entirely missing from other technical categories is disheartening. Nominees for best director, cinematography, short film (live action), film editing, music (original score), sound mixing, visual effects and writing (original screenplay) are all men. The only woman recognized for her musical contributions was Adele, for her original song for Skyfall. Sadly, there were also no women-directed foreign films nominated—a category in which women have fared well in years past. Perhaps most frustrating is Kathryn Bigelow’s exclusion—her film Zero Dark Thirty received a nomination for best picture, yet she is conspicuously absent from the list of nominees for best director. Some critics argue that the snub is political (many believe the film endorses torture), but that does not explain why Bigelow, who was the first woman to win the award in 2009, is being punished while the film’s screenwriter, Mark Boal, did receive a nomination.

The 85th annual Academy Awards will take place on February 24. Though they are few in number, we hope many of the women nominated take home trophies.



Rachel Kassenbrock is a writer who works at the Feminist Majority Foundation and blogs for Ms. Follow her on Twitter at @rkassenbrock.