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Did the Oscars snub women? Decades-old fierce debate rages on

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Greta Gerwig’s acclaimed film adaptation of Little Women was shortlisted for best picture, but Gerwig’s name was missing from an all-male, five-strong best director section, sparking controversy. AFP

Did the Oscars snub women? Decades-old fierce debate rages on

It is an accusation that has been levelled at the Oscars all too often over the years, and this year is no different – too many men, not enough women, particularly in the most prestigious categories.

The hashtag #OscarsSoMale reared up again following the Academy Award nominations announced last month, with much of the focus on the absence of Greta Gerwig in the best director category.

Her acclaimed film adaptation of Little Women was shortlisted for best picture, but Gerwig’s name was missing from an all-male, five-strong best director section, sparking controversy.

“It’s quite remarkable, after everything that has happened over the last few years, that the Academy refuses to acknowledge women in multiple categories,” said Tema Staig, executive director of the advocacy group Women in Media.

“It’s outrageous, and it affects our ability to tell our stories and also to move up in the industry,” she told Vogue magazine.

Some social media users and industry professionals have even called for a boycott of Oscars night on Sunday over the issue.

While that may be a minority position, there is little arguing with criticism of the Oscars’ longer-term track record: it wasn’t until 2010 that a woman won best director – Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker.

No female directors have won since, and only five have ever been nominated over the course of more than 90 Oscars ceremonies.

But ironically, the last woman nominated in the category was Gerwig herself, for 2017’s Lady Bird.

This nomination has been held up as proof by some that her absence this year is no deliberate exclusion, but simply a result of extremely strong competition in an award season featuring the likes of Joker, 1917, Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood, The Irishman and Parasite.

Sasha Stone, founder of the Awards Daily website that has tracked film prizes for 20 years, described the supposed snub as “fake news”.

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“The misconception that Gerwig was passed over in favor of lesser male counterparts is patently untrue,” Stone wrote.

‘Boys’ club’

Since the Oscars were first held in 1929, the Academy has faced an uphill battle to break with misogynistic habits – both within the organization, and the broader movie business.

“Of course, systemic gender bias in the film industry exists, without a doubt,” said Stone.

While few women “in the past were ever trusted to helm prestige films”, the directors’ branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has itself “always been a boys’ club”, she said.

“For decades, its members were the men nominated for Oscars and the men who won them.”

Melissa Silverstein, founder of the “Women and Hollywood” website and director of the Athena Film Festival, added: “It’s disturbing but not surprising that women directors still don’t get the respect and awards that male directors do.”

“The system and the culture are the problems,” Silverstein said.

The Academy has boosted efforts to address this, increasing its membership dramatically after criticism of under-representation of women and minorities.

Since 2016, it has expanded the number of Oscar voters – currently around 8,500 – by 35 per cent.

“We went through our membership roster and said, ‘Who have we not included? Who needs to be here?’” Lorenza Munoz, the Academy’s head of member relations and awards, told the Hollywood Reporter.

“And there was a very long list of people. Our members have really dug in and taken it very seriously.”

The organisation is still 68 per cent male and 84 per cent white, but for the first time in history, women made up half of the new recruits added last year.

And at last month’s Oscar nominations announcement, an Academy press release prominently noted that a “record 64 women were nominated, one-third of this year’s nominees.”

This statistic includes Gerwig’s own two nominations – best adapted screenplay for Little Women, and best picture, as she is one of the film’s producers.

And more broadly, several of the most eagerly awaited films of 2020 will be directed and/or produced by women, such as Wonder Woman 1984, Mulan and Black Widow.

“There have been great strides and we’ve got to keep going: keep writing, keep making, keep doing. It’s all there,” Gerwig said.

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