The theme of the 86th Academy Awards was, purportedly, “Heroes in Hollywood.” This dream was realized through a montage of inspirational characters of the silver screen shown partway through the show, a dazzling montage with a dazzling array of white male faces of every size and shape.
There was also Katniss, and The Bride. Female representation is alive and kicking in Hollywood, everyone!
…Unfortunately, this would grow to be a bit of a theme.
The Academy Awards is far too much of a boy’s club, but in order to discuss this more fully we’ll need to take it from the top.
For one definition of “beginning,” it’s important to note that the continued male domination of the awards starts with the Academy itself. According to a study completed by the LA Times, the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is 93 percent white and 76 percent male, a fact that does not bode well for what sort of films and filmmakers the voters are likely to relate to and vote for. The Academy has been making strides to combat this, in theory, accepting large numbers of voters in the past few years in an attempt to further diversify its ranks. However, with so much of the Academy’s ranks so predominately white, male, and rapidly aging, it will take a lot more than hastily accepting more members to fix what seems like a broken system.
This bias is reflected in the show itself: continuing a regrettable tradition, the nominees for Best Director were entirely male. There has been one female winner of the award in the entire history of the awards, a mere five years ago in 2009. Kathryn Bigelow, the winner, makes up 25 percent of all female nominees for the award. That’s right. There have been four.
This trend continues in the other awards, with nine of 13 awards for the work of individuals (thus, categories like Best Animated Film, Best Documentary Short, Original Song, etc. excluded) going to entirely male crews. The female award winners? Cate Blanchett for Actress in a Leading Role; Lupita Nyong’o for Actress in a Supporting Role; Catherine Martin for Costume Design; Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews for Makeup and Hairstyling; and Catherine Martin (again!) and Beverley Dunn for Production Design.
Hardly the rousing sign of a female presence in the industry one would hope for.
Even the film “Gravity,” which is at its core about a powerful female performance, had its admirable seven awards accepted by an entirely male bunch. Not a single woman to be seen in a movie about a woman’s struggle – a tidy representation of the awards themselves.
To look at another branch of the tree: starting from the chronological beginning of this year’s broadcast, one has only to look at the red carpet coverage to see a huge difference between the treatment of female members of Hollywood and their male counterparts. It’s become another honored tradition to gleefully rip actresses apart on the red carpet for their choice of wardrobe, reducing these talented women to nothing more than slabs of meat ­— hands for the “manicam,” pans up and down the body that end rather than begin with the face, dissected to lips and hair and clutches and shoes. It’s difficult to take these actresses (and other members of the industry) seriously when audiences are trained to look at their appearance first and measure them on that. It’s building a poor foundation for a show designed to be a celebration of talent.
It’s true that this did improve slightly during the show, with Ellen DeGeneres bringing an enjoyable female presence to the stage (but really, anything would be an improvement over last year’s cringe worthy rendition of “We Saw Your Boobs”), but there are only so many jokes that can be made about Jennifer Lawrence’s clumsiness or the hyped-up competition between female actresses before the whole thing grows stale. It’s a baby step, but not a large one.
Lupita Nyong’o represented, hopefully, a shift for the awards when she took home the award for Best Supporting Actress with an emotional speech. With tears in her eyes, she said, “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” Although there is, as always, a long way to go —many deserving films made about, for, and by people of color were not present at this year’s ceremony — the triumph of Nyong’o (one of seven black actresses to take home the award) and her director Steve McQueen (the first African American director to win the award for Best Picture) do represent another step forwards for a ceremony plagued by stagnation.
This by no means cancels out the previously mentioned imbalance of age, race, and gender within the Academy, a problem that still desperately seeks a solution. It’s not as if the problem lies within the filmmakers, even — films like Fruitvale Station were hailed by critics and audiences alike, yet remain mysteriously absent from ballots.
Everyone knows the Academy’s weakness for period pieces. Maybe the solution is just to make films about slavery until the minds of the Academy make the leap from the 1800s to the present. 
In fact, the Academy seems far too stuck on the past, in a time where women were silent and people of color weren’t even onscreen. This realization is spreading throughout the world and throughout the industry itself. While accepting her award for Actress in a Leading Role, Cate Blanchett addressed a message to her fellow industry members: “Those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences: they are not — audiences want to see them, and in fact they earn money. The world is round, people!”
Audiences have realized it. It’s time the Academy did too.