How I Feel About The 2015 Oscar Nominations As a Female Filmmaker

On Thursday morning, I Googled 2015's Oscar Nominations. Up flashed four pictures advertising the current nominees. In all, there were eight people in the pictures. Not a single one was a woman.

What is wrong with this picture?

Have women begun to die out? Has the female population of Earth, suddenly and without my knowledge, diminished so rapidly overnight that these nominees reflect a statistically accurate depiction of the world?

Hoping that Google just randomly happened to generate pictures of men, I flipped over to Oscar.com to check out the actual nominees. I was not pleasantly surprised.

This year, there are eight nominees for Best Picture. Every one of them has a male protagonist. Every one of them (with the exception of Selma ) has a male director, a male screenwriter, and a male cinematographer.

Seriously? We’ve watered down the Oscars by allowing more than five nominees, and we STILL can’t come up with one starring or created by a woman?

In 2007, I won a scholarship to film school at USC. I was in the graduate directing program, supposedly one of the best in the world. Out of the 52 students accepted my year, only nine of us were women.

I checked the other categories. Every one of the writers nominated, for both original and adapted screenplay, was a man. All male directors AND cinematographers. Desperate, I Google searched Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski to see if either one was a woman.

No luck. Really?

As a female filmmaker, this problem has been grating on my nerves for a while now. Ever since my first experience in the film industry, interning at Miramax Films my sophomore year at Stanford, I have been a front row witness to the state of women in Hollywood. Being a highly respected and unusually esteemed intern, I had a very important job, which was to sit on a stool in the copy room all day, photocopying scripts. I must have photocopied about a thousand screenplays a week.

And I read all of them.

After about 200 scripts, I began to notice a trend: there were few interesting parts for women. Russell Crowe’s delusional fantasy world aside, complex roles for women (especially over the age of fifty) are few and far between.

In 2007, I won a scholarship to film school at USC. I was in the graduate directing program, supposedly one of the best in the world. Out of the 52 students accepted my year, only nine of us were women.

Notice a pattern?

Maybe it doesn’t matter who is behind the camera. Maybe it’s what’s on the screen that really counts. So let’s take a look at what kind of female characters the 41 talented young male filmmakers in my class choose to put on the screen: One of the first films made by a male student in my class that starred any women at all featured two hot, Asian, kung fu fighting lesbian vampires. They fought each other, bit each other, made love, then ate each other’s hearts out. (Literally.) They did not talk, except for some indistinct grunting noises.

Needless to say, they would not have passed the Bechdel Test, a test determining whether, in any given film, there is at least ONE conversation between two named female characters that is not about a man. (Only half of films pass this test each year.) Watching the credits roll after a film made by another man in my class, very few female characters had names, but many had descriptors like Secretary, Hot Chick, Slut 1, Slut2, etc.

You get the picture.

Were these 41 students bad people? Not at all. They were typical male filmmakers: sleepy-eyed and sweet, slovenly and unshaven; driven, determined and dirt-poor like the rest of us, doing everything they could to succeed in a tough industry they loved. But there’s something about the average male that, when he tries to write female characters, seems to result in an astonishingly high percentage of hot lesbian vampires.

The reason we do not have enough interesting female characters on the screen is that we do not have enough women behind the cameras, producing, directing, and writing them.

The Oscar nominations this year are a dire example of this. In the Best Director, Best Cinematographer, Best Editor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay categories, 31 of the nominees are men. One is a woman. (Bizarrely, the woman, Sandra Adair, was nominated for editing a film called Boyhood.)

Beginning to get an eerie, twilight zone kind of feeling, I scrolled up to the Best Actress nominees just to double check that THEY were all women. Thank goodness we have some gender-specific categories, or we might not have any female nominees at all.

So what is the solution to this problem? One interesting possibility for bypassing the male-dominated system in Hollywood, and for letting audiences actually choose what kind of movies they want to see, is crowd funding.

Now, don't get me wrong: I adore the Academy Awards. As a child, I watched them obsessively. While other little girls played with Barbies, I dreamed of playing with a small, naked man made of gold-plated britannium. (Side note: Why is the award named Oscar, why is he a man, and WHY is he naked?)

The lack of women in Hollywood is a serious problem, not just for the film industry, but for the world. Movies have a powerful, subconscious influence over the way we view society and ourselves. We do not want little girls OR little boys to grow up thinking that the only roles for women are romance-obsessed twenty-one-year-olds, secretaries, or hot lesbian vampires.

And it would be nice, if there are other little girls out there like me, to have more than zero female role models among the 2015 Academy Award nominees for writing and directing.

So what is the solution to this problem? One interesting possibility for bypassing the male-dominated system in Hollywood, and for letting audiences actually choose what kind of movies they want to see, is crowd funding.

Historically, getting a film made has meant getting a “green light” from a big Hollywood financier, who is almost always a man, almost always intrinsically more intrigued by screenplays starring men, and more likely to choose male directors, cinematographers, etc. That is no longer the case.

Platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, which raise funds for film projects via crowd funding, thereby bypassing the Hollywood system altogether, are on the rise. Today, anyone with Internet access can go online and choose to support a vast array of interesting film projects. And they can get cool rewards for doing so.

For example, I am currently running a Kickstarter campaign for an award-winning script, with a female-led crew and two strong female leads, that will be shot at a castle in Italy this summer. People can contribute, say, $15, and in return, they will receive two movie tickets to an advance screening of the film. Thus, backers don’t merely get to support a cause they care about; they’re actually buying well-priced movie tickets, with the additional boon that they get a say in what kind of movie they’re helping to create.

In 2014, female director Gillian Robespierre used Kickstarter to fund her movie Obvious Child , which went on to premiere at Sundance and win the Red Crown Producer’s Award for another female filmmaker, producer Elisabeth Holm. I hope more female filmmakers will channel this exciting new platform as a way of supporting underrepresented groups in Hollywood, and changing the system.

As of 2013, women make up 52 percent of movie audiences. We are more than half of the reason for why the film industry exists. We shouldn't be forced to watch films where 100 percent of the Best Picture nominations go to men.

It is 2015, after all.

Images: Lumiere; Giphy