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The (Disappointingly) Record-Breaking Number of Female Oscar Winners in 2019

Jadzia Samuel Tuesday 26 February 2019

The 91st Academy Awards on Sunday evening was a momentous occasion for many reasons, not the least of which was the evident increase in diversity and representation from recent years. The legendary filmmaker Spike Lee finally received his first competitive Oscar for 'BlackKklansman', and Marvel's 'Black Panther' not only became the first ever superhero film to win an Oscar, but also achieved a total of three awards. Furthermore, the film's costume designer, Ruth Carter, became the first ever black person to win in said category. 2019 was also a record breaking year for the number of female Oscar winners.

Oscars 2019

Pictured above: Regina King and Olivia Colman, winners of Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress

Out of around the roughly 50 Oscar winners each year, the highest number of women to receive the golden statue was previously only 12, which was achieved both in 2007 and 2015. This disappointing and shockingly low record was finally overcome this year, with 15 female winners out of a total of 54. To some extent, this increase in the recognition of women's achievements in the industry warrants some form of celebration, yet the fact that women have somehow made Academy history while still only accounting for less than a third of the total winners (27.8%) only serves to reinforce the existence of the oppressive glass ceiling that suffocates female filmmakers in Hollywood. The statistics were even more disheartening last year (with only 4 women receiving awards for non-acting roles) thus we should appreciate the fact that this year is indeed a milestone in the journey to more representative filmmaking. However, above all, it only serves to prove how far we still have to travel.

There has been an increasingly loud conversation regarding feminism in Hollywood over the past few years, especially in light of the horrific revelations of the Me Too movement. More and more actresses and female filmmakers have been making a stand to protest against the oppressive patriarchal system in the cinema industry. For example, in Frances McDormand's Oscar acceptance speech for Best Actress last year, she famously called for all female nominees in every category to stand with her, celebrating the women's achievements. She declared: "look around, ladies and gentlemen. We all have stories to tell and projects we need financing [...] I have two words to leave with you tonight: inclusion rider".

The "inclusion rider" to which McDormand referred is a clause which any actor or actress can include in their contracts which ensures any film to which they are signed have a cast which is equal in terms of gender and racial representation. It goes without saying that the more actors and actresses who include this clause in their contracts, the more films and creators will be encouraged to hire with representation in mind. Thanks to the relentless efforts of women like McDormand, who are fighting for recognition, there has indeed been an increase in the number of female protagonists in films over the past year. However, while women on screen are (very) slowly gaining better representation, the number of women in influential positions behind the camera is still very limited. The lack of female directors nominated in the category of Best Director has already been criticised, and TimesUp are running a campaign to increase the number of women directors in Hollywood.

Oscars 2019

Pictured above: Ruth Carter, winner of Best Costume Desgin

This being said, we should celebrate the women whose achievements in the industry have been recognised in this years Oscars. As well as Olivia Colman ('The Favourite') and Regina King ('If Beale Street Could Talk') winning in the categories of Best Actress and Supporting Actress respectively, female filmmakers also thrived in nine out of the twenty creative categories:

- Ruth Carter ('Black Panther'): Best Costume Design

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Shannon Dill ('Free Solo'): Best Documentary

- Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton ('Period. End of Sentence.'): Best Short Film Documentary

- Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney ('Vice'): Best Hair and Makeup

- Hannah Beachler ('Black Panther'): Best Production Design

Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb ('Bao'): Best Short Film Animation

Jaime Ray Newman ('Skin'): Best Fiction Short Film

- Nina Hartstone ('Bohemian Rhapsody'): Best Sound Editing

Lady Gaga ('A Star is Born'): Best Original Song for 'Shallow'

The Oscars: The No-Surprise Prizes

Little by little the Academy is reviewing and reorganising itself in order to create a more representative and inclusive body of members. In 2015 "Oscars So White" became a trending hashtag on Twitter, protesting against the lack of recognition of non-white filmmakers and actors in the Oscars. A study showed that in 2016, the Oscars voting body was 93% white, 76% male, and the average age was over 60, demonstrating the lack of diversity. Consequently, the Academy famously invited of 600 new members to join in order to combat this, 41% of whom were non-white and 46% of whom were women. They aim to double these numbers for 2020, so perhaps we might see a very different ceremony in the years to come, with female creators being given the recognition and positions that they deserve.

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