Hollywood's Male Gaze
Only four percent of directors over the last twelve years were female, and over the last ten years less than a third of all speaking characters were female.
Joon-ho, Scorsese, Tarantino, Phillips, Mendez. What do they all have in common? They were all nominated for the best director award at this year's Oscars and… they’re all men. It's commonplace in male-dominated industries such as Hollywood for female talent to be pushed aside. Only four percent of directors over the last twelve years were female, and over the last ten years less than a third of all speaking characters were female. None of this differs from stats from nearly a century ago.
This year especially, many incredibly beautiful and cinematically masterful films were pushed to the side because of the name slapped underneath the words ‘Director’ in the credits. For example ‘Little Women’ directed by Greta Gerwig, very narrowly missed out on being shortlisted this year. Regardless of gender, this film was one of the most exquisitely crafted films I have ever had the privilege to watch. It was a piece of art, dealing with female empowerment in all its glory and might. Yet rather than credit this film, critics’ heads were turned by a ‘The Irishman’, a glacial three and a half hour film where women were seen and not heard, quite literally. Scorcese might be an invincible Hollywood legend, but he’s also a man on record as saying that female protagonists are a ‘waste of time.’ Indeed, the nominal ‘lead actress’ in The Irishman would’ve had no problem learning her lines, as she had a grand total of six words. Though this provoked a ripple of pushback, it evidently wasn’t enough for the Academy to change their mind.
This type of sexism is nothing new. ‘Old‘ Hollywood was a place riddled with prejudice and inequality, where women are merely something to fall under the male gaze. Even at the start of the feminist movement in Hollywood, icons like Hepburn and Monroe were still treated with as much respect as a doormat. Monroe was once denied a pivotal role in ‘Cleopatra’ because she refused to be nice to a known abuser Buddy Adler. Many women, like Gloria Swansen and Clara bow, were forced to sign morality clauses in contracts. This meant that their personal lives became the property of the studio they worked for. Sometimes they were forced to change their names, permanently alter their appearance and even engage in publicity stunts such as staged romances. So no wonder the female directors of today aren't noticed, because female versions of Scorsese don't exist, they’re so used to being controlled by men they eventually began to be silent.
This year's Oscars was monumental for so many good reasons: ‘Parasite’ being the first ever foreign film to win an Oscar for best film, Joaquin Phoenix using his white male privilege to call out injustice in the Academy. Yet even in the midst of change there are reasons to be deflated. The highly questionable Tarantino was still awarded with nominations, despite his notorious mistreatment of his female co-workers and constant thread of misogyny weaved through his films. Elsewhere, Natalie Portman took it upon herself to wear a superwoman cape embroidered with the snubbed names of female directors, and even she found herself on the receiving end of a torrent of abuse. In 2020, this should not be allowed to continue. Women are not pieces on a chessboard to be moved around by powerful men; we are powerful in our own right. It's time to banish the treatment of Monroe and Portman to the dustbin of history and celebrate female talent in the same way that we laud Scorcese, Tarantino et al. Little Women may have missed out on an Oscar, but let’s ensure that future women do not.