An Actress's Thoughts

Oscars so diverse?

The US Film Awards 2023

Last Sunday, the Academy Awards 2023 were presented in Los Angeles. I’ve been asked for a comment several times already, so here goes!

Many people celebrated the large number of nationalities represented among the award winners and the many different ethnic backgrounds. This can be considered good news, although it is largely due to EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, which was nominated for eleven awards and won seven. This fantasy comedy about a Chinese immigrant family in the USA involved a great many Asian filmmakers or US filmmakers with Asian background behind and obviously in front of the camera. The frequently used phrase “the first actress nominated for a leading role who identifies as Asian” in connection with the Malaysian leading actress Michelle Yeoh seems a bit strange though.*

There was also great excitement over two actresses winning the awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role respectively. Two actresses over 60 I should add.

I can’t say much about other diversity categories in front of and behind the cameras, as I haven’t seen any of the films except for SHE SAID, the drama about the revelation of the Weinstein crimes and starting-point of the #metoo movement. Oh, and SHE SAID wasn’t nominated at all, in any category. Well, what can I say.**  

6-Departments-Check – a Tragedy

What I can offer, however, is a statistical evaluation of the shares of women and men in six departments in the fifteen films that were nominated in at least two categories. The six departments I examined this time are producers (instead of sound), directors, writers, directors of photography, editors and composers. And this 6-departments-check is a tragedy, unless you like pink and one-sidedness:

As you can see in the diagram, directing and screenplay under 10 % women’s share, camera less than 15 %, production and editing around 20 %, music under 25 %.

Has anyone made an issue of this, was it mentioned in the media? If they have, I didn’t notice. It’s as if sexism, gender imbalance, structural discrimination against women in film and television are not really of interest as separate issues anymore, since we are now talking about diversity. And that means “everything else”, even if many men and a few women would like to persuade us that diversity includes women. I tend to think No it doesn’t.

Of the twelve awards within reach for filmmakers in the six departments today – Best Film, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Film Score, Best International Film – three went to women. Two of them in the female acting categories, Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis, so that was a given. Plus Sarah Polley for Best Adapted Screenplay (WOMEN TALKING). In contrast, fourteen men took home Oscar statuettes. That’s a ratio of 1:4.7 – and 1:12 without the acting awards.

In all six departments, 22 women and 119 men were listed, which is a ratio of 1:5.4. In other words: although women were involved in the important departments, men outnumbered them five to one. And without the acting awards, more than ten times as many men would have won an Oscar.

Yes, there were other categories, of course, and women won awards there too, alone or in mixed teams: Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Make-Up, Best Documentary, Best Documentary Short. Sounds familiar?

Alas, the hashtag #oscarssomale is once again justified.

Who complies with #2of6?

Back to the fifteen films. Six of them did not involve a woman in the 6 departments investigated: EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, THE WHALE, THE BATMAN and TRIANGLE OF SADNESS.

The next picture shows the other distributions:

If you visit this blog regularly you may have heard of my proposal #2of6pN (2 out of 6 plus NEROPA), i.e. the (self-)obligation that women must be involved in two out of six departments. Not solely responsible, just involved. Usually I look at sound instead of production.

Three films had only one woman in any of the six departments, author Lesley Paterson wrote the script for IM WESTEN NICHTS NEUES / ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT together with two colleagues, Edward Berger and Ian Stockel, based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. BABYLON has producer Olivia Hamilton, alongside producers Marc Platt and Matthew Piouffe.

It’s not that hard to meet the criteria, it doesn’t even have to be a female majority, just women involved. For 2of6, two trades are required, however still 9 of the 15 films do not manage that, which is more than half, 60%.

Of all 90 positions*** (15 films with 6 trades each) there are 18 with female participation, but only 8 with exclusively women. In addition, there are two positions with a majority of women: editors for BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER and producers of WOMEN TALKING. This means we are looking at 80 positions in (a majority of) male hands.

I’ve already addressed SHE SAID, maybe there were other films with more women behind the camera that didn’t make it and weren’t nominated, but that would be a topic for another day.****

Has this been addressed anywhere, in the industry media, radio, TV, yellow press, blog you trust? I’d be happy to hear about it, merci.


* Addendum 1: Yeoh is Malaysian of Chinese descent, whether she identifies with it or not. Much of her previous roles have been Asian characters. But perhaps identification is just to say that Yeoh did not hide, or had to hide, her origins. This is in contrast to Merle Oberon (1911-79), who was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role in the 1935 film THE DARK ANGEL and is probably familiar to some as Cathy in the 1939 film WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Oberon’s grandmother was from Sri Lanka, but she also had European ancestry.

** Addendum 2: In SHE SAID, three of the six departments included a woman, director, script camera, and a fourth – producer – had a woman in the mixed team. Funnily enough, as with WOMEN TALKING, it was Dede Gardner (I’ll be preparing a pitch for “Girls Will Speak” soon).

*** Addendum 3: It’s actually 89 and not 90 positions, because for the Swedish film TRIANGLE OF SADNESS I couldn’t find any composer:s, only a playlist.

**** Addendum 4: I described how the nominations for Best Picture work ten years ago (And the Oscar goes to…), that’s been quite a while. And the US Academy now has significantly more members.











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