Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sexism and the Oscars

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry premiere (Adam Schlesinger, director Alison Klayman, Karl Katz, and Julie Goldman)

Last year several excellent documentaries were not nominated by the Oscars, two of which were directed by women. In 2012, Queen of Versailles, directed by Lauren Greenfield, and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry by Alison Klayman were both critically acclaimed but not even in the running for best documentary. 

Look what happened this year:
A couple of surprises came in the feature documentary category, where Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” a personal yarn about her own dysfunctional family, and Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s “Blackfish,” about allegations of abuse of animals and trainers at the SeaWorld parks, were left out. Both films appeared on list after list of favorites. (NYT)
Two films directed by women, AGAIN mysteriously snubbed? I also found it strange that The Invisible War, which focused predominantly on the sexual assault of women, lost to the male-focused Searching for Sugar Man.

(I must note that I saw Searching for Sugar Man but not The Invisible War. Sugar Man is a remarkable story, charming if initially hagiographic, but The Invisible War actually inspired policy change.)

I am unfamiliar with the politics of nominating and selecting best pictures. However, isn't this snub of four prominent documentaries over two years, all directed by women, a blatant example of sexism? Not having seen most of the examples, I can't say whether the movies deserve to win or even be nominated based on quality. But we all know the Oscars have little imagination. A movie doesn't have to be groundbreaking to become an Oscar nominee. 

I will speak for Queen of Versailles, though: it is one of the best documentaries I have seen, certainly one of the best films I saw in 2012. A timely, funny, and dark take on the American dream, it follows it's extremely wealthy subjects with subtlety and precision. The movie speaks volumes about gender relations, the state of the economy, ambition, inequality, and a variety of other issues.

Other worthy movies, including those I consider modern classics, have been ignored by the Academy. Most of them are not directed by women. But the absence of these female-directed documentaries should be noticed.