The frontrunners for the Best Picture race at this year’s Academy Awards focus on a King with a stutter (The King’s Speech), some techie wunderkinds from Harvard (The Social Network), a dude who travels inside people’s dreams (Inception), a 19th-century take-no-prisoners cowboy (True Grit) and a 21st-century take-no-prisoners cowboy who happens to be a toy (Toy Story 3). And with other male-centric movies like The Fighter, The Town, and 127 Hours nabbing major buzz, testosterone is almost certain to be oozing from the list of Oscar hopefuls when the nominations are announced on January 25.
It’s quite a different picture from the 2010 Oscars, where everyone was talking about the power of Precious, the badass strength of Sandra Bullock’s character in The Blind Side, and the fact that a woman, Kathyrn Bigelow, who helmed The Hurt Locker, finally had a shot at Best Director.
It turns out that last year’s female-heavy show of Oscar love was an exception to the rule of male-focused movies dominating the Academy Awards season.
Some bloggers have blamed the Academy for being a guy’s club led by rich, white men. Anne Thompson at Indie Wire complained in particular about The Kids Are All Right, which, along with Black Swan, is one of the few female-centric films considered Oscar contenders this year. She wrote:
Oscar campaigners call them the Steak Eaters. The Academy is full of them—they’re red-blooded males (not just American—Europeans and Aussies, too), often directors, writers, and craftspeople. … “They vote for big movies that make big money, good solid moviemaking with great actors and good storytelling,” says one veteran Oscar campaigner. “True Grit is for them.”
That’s not to say that those male-centric movies are undeserving. They’re not. Almost without exception, they tell engrossing stories of good men (or, in the case of True Grit, men who are trying really hard to be good) who have interesting lives. But why doesn’t the Academy acknowledge more films that tell engrossing stories of good women who have interesting lives? Maybe because those kinds of movies aren’t getting made—unless, of course, we’re including Burlesque, Twilight, or Sex and the City 2.
I don’t think the bias lies with the Academy voters. I think it’s with Hollywood in general. After all, it’s not like the Oscar voters are presented with many options of female-dominated movies that aren’t teenage melodramas or campy romantic comedies.
This is probably a good time to take another look at the Bechdel Test. The test, designed by writer and cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, asks three questions to gauge the female presence in a movie: 1) Are there at least two female characters with names? 2) Do the women talk to each other? And 3) Do they talk about something other than a man?
Entertainment Weekly and other writers brought the test back into social consciousness in August. Mark Harris of EW wrote:
Maybe it’s time for the people who green-light movies, some of whom are rumored to be or at least to have met women, to ask themselves if perhaps they should take this issue a bit more seriously. … No, not every movie needs to pass the Bechdel Test. But since we’re talking about half the population, how about half the movies?
There’s nothing filmmakers can do about it now for this year—and, like I said, the masculine movies that will more than likely be nominated this year are wonderfully made pictures that really deserve accolades. But it’s not too late to make New Year’s resolutions, and if studio heads haven’t already committed themselves to losing 10 pounds and being a better person, perhaps they could consider making female-focused storytelling a priority in 2011.