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How Will #MeToo Affect Awards Season?

How Will #MeToo Affect Awards Season?

When the film industry broke up with Weinstein last year, they also called it quits with some of the old school power structures that had been set in place and ignored for decades. Ever wondered why only five women have ever been nominated for an Oscar in the Best Director category (and that includes this year’s Greta Gerwig for her coming-of-age comedy, “Ladybird”)?

A new relationship between society and film was sparked the moment women began sharing their personal experiences of sexual violence and joining the #MeToo movement, a social media campaign that has connected the world and highlights the ubiquity of sexual assault and the universal nature of the problem.

Wearing black at the 75th Golden Globe awards in January voiced a communal solidarity for #TimesUp, a legal defense fund that provides support to those who have experienced sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. 

The conversation on the Red Carpet shifted from the traditional “Who are you wearing?” to “Why are you wearing black?” BAFTA attendees were criticized for not wearing black, including Frances McDormand, who won Best Actress in a Drama Motion Picture for her role as a grieving mother in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and  Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge), who was considered dismissive. As a member of the British Royal Family, Kate’s duty is to remain politically unbiased, whilst McDormand’s bold response spoke for itself, announcing herself that although she personally has “a problem with compliance,” she stands in full solidarity with her sisters in black. Amen to that. 

With this, a new era was born. An era in which speaking your truth is synonymous with regaining power; and with women leading the charge, the film industry has a lot to look forward to. With the 90th Academy Awards tomorrow, although we can’t help but look forward to who’s wearing what, the question that will inevitably be on our lips is: How will the #MeToo movement impact the winners and how the wins are viewed? 

The Academy Awards are by no means the definitive marker of what makes a film worth watching, or indicative of talent, but they certainly have a place in our social context. They also have potential to create opportunities through recognition of underrepresented filmmakers and of “niche” realities and communities. Just look at 2017’s small-scale “Moonlight,” the first LGBT picture to win an Oscar, and a welcome sign that inclusive stories have a significant and important place in the industry. “Moonlight”composer Nicholas Brittel regards the Oscars as a crucial showcasing opportunity and the chance for audiences to respond to it. For me, this is what makes the Oscars so relevant. 

Mudbound” has received four record-breaking Oscar nominations for women: Rachel Morrison is the first woman nominee for Cinematography; Dee Rees, the first black woman nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay; and Mary J Blige, the first black female actress/singer up for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song. It’s also a Netflix Original, screening away from the glitz of a theatrical release. This is a monumental achievement for women and the black community and a shift in the views of the old, stuffy white men on the board; or at least, a shift in their social awareness which is no doubt filled with the latest disparity news. 

Does this mean that the Oscars are shifting from the celebration of face-value film talent (historically dominated by white men) to a politically-infused platform for recognition? It does make sense to use such a globally revered stage. The issue that concerns me is whether the demand for respect in the entertainment industry, initiated by the Weinstein effect and #MeToo, is causing a distraction from the bare talent this year (if it is ever possible to remove our own gender bias). Or, more alarmingly, whether it’s undermining the success that just so happens to have stemmed during the public debunking of this system. 

Films offer “a spotlight and magnify the voices of the people in the films,” says Orlando von Einsiedel, director of “Virunga,” on why the Oscars matter. Judging by the films flying high this year, and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” taking the lead in wins with its adroit exploration of the human condition and the power of taking action, it’s clear that the public wants to see films that challenge stereotypes, bigoted authorities, and the male-canon“Three Billboards” exemplifies beautiful and original filmmaking, directed by Martin McDonagh who is known for his controversial treatments of social issues. Whilst explaining McDormand’s fiery character, Mildred, he observed that little girls just don’t have a James Dean figure to emulate, justifying the importance of introducing an entirely new anti-heroine into the world. 

But not all men in film are creating these multidimensional characters that confront power holders. And with reports from the Women’s Media Center showing that men represent 77 percent of the Oscar nominees for behind-the-scenes roles this year, it’s worrying that the Weinstein effect and #MeToo hasn’t had more of an effect yet. Let’s hope that this visible stagnation will push Hollywood executives to take sustainable and fundamental action. More recognition for female work creates more opportunities. 

We already know that female directors can deliver, with Patty Jenkins directing the highest grossing superhero origin film ever. “Wonder Woman,” starring Gal Gadot, earned $821.74M last year, living proof that women can direct and star in a successful franchise.

I do believe that a change is coming; but as WMC co-chair and chair of the Sundance Institute, Pat Mitchel suggests, “changes must come from those who hold the power,” and historically, power holders don’t give it up without a fight. 

If we are deprived of women’s voices, perspectives, and creativity in the film industry, as WCW highlights, it affects the larger society. This should be the catalyst for change when bearing in mind that the Academy’s board members are fully aware of the latest news about the systematic mistreatment of women in film throughout history. The Oscars also have significant marketing power for the smaller films that need funding in order to share and continue their unique voices.

The question, then, is about opportunities: what opportunities will these social movements create for the historically underrepresented in film? Alternatively, what threats do these bandwagon movements pose? Culturally, films are behind due to their lengthy schedules, meaning that the bold women being showcased in front of and behind the camera this year were there long before #MeToo. It would be a shame to see these examples of hard work and skill be undermined by their timing in this current social climate, a time when women in the industry are simultaneously being judged for not conforming to the latest trend. 

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