Women advance slightly in Oscar nominations
Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele are among the five nominees for the Academy Award in directing. USA TODAY
It was a better day for women in Hollywood Tuesday, after the Academy Awards nominations were announced and women's names turned up in categories where they have rarely been seen, such as best director and best cinematographer.
Progress? Maybe. It was at least a hopeful sign to those agitating for more equity for women in an industry staggering under multiple scandals throwing harsh light on how women are treated unfairly in opportunities, paychecks and personal safety.
Being nominated for an Oscar is no guarantee of actually winning, but at least women are in the pool, a crucial step given the near shutout in important categories dating back decades and as recently as the Golden Globes earlier this month.
More Who's a contender?: Oscar nominations 2018: Who got nominated? Here's the full list
Obviously, women haven't been entirely unseen at the Oscars: There are the actress and supporting-actress fields. But how did women fare in non-actress categories?
The big name and big news was Greta Gerwig, who was nominated for original screenplay and director for Lady Bird, which also was nominated for best picture.
And a first-ever: Rachel Morrison became the first woman nominated for cinematography for her painterly photography in Mudbound, the Netflix tale that focuses on the post-World War II era in the Deep South.
Her competitors are all men: Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2024; Bruno Delbonnel for Darkest Hour; Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk, and Dan Laustsen for The Shape of Water.
There were other positive signs in the nominations: In the original screenplay category, there were two other women nominated besides Gerwig: Emily V. Gordon for her work with her husband, Kumail Nanjiani, in The Big Sick, and Vanessa Taylor for her work with Guillermo del Toro in The Shape of Water, which also was nominated for best picture.
And the animated feature category included three women: Nora Twomey for her work with Anthony Lee in The Breadwinner, Darla K. Anderson for her work with Lee Unkrich in Coco, and Dorota Kobiela for her work with Hugh Welchman and Ivan Mactaggart in Loving Vincent.
Mary J. Blige was a twofer nominee: The nine-time Grammy winner earned her first acting Oscar nomination, a supporting-actress nod for Mudbound, and also was nominated with Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson for original song, Mighty River, from the film.
The academy was anxious to stress what it considers good signs, issuing a fact sheet that pointed out Lady Bird is the 13th film directed by a woman to be nominated for best picture and the fourth film written and directed solely by women to be nominated for picture and writing.
More The leading nominations: Oscars nominations 2018: 'The Shape of Water' leads with 13, including best picture
On the other hand, the only other woman thought to have had a chance to be in the director category, Patty Jenkins for Wonder Woman, missed out in the nominations. And African-American filmmaker Dee Rees failed to score a best picture or director nomination for her work in Mudbound.
Amber Tamblyn, for one, wasn't satisfied. "The Oscar nominations are not just a problem of exclusion. This is a problem of representation. There needs to be more films written and directed by women and women of color, PERIOD," she said in a series of tweets.
Why does it matter how many women are nominated for Oscars?
Because the 2018 Oscar nominations come as Hollywood — and American culture at large — are grappling with multiple calls for change in the continuing lack of parity for women behind the cameras and in what women are paid compared with men.
Most of all, women in the entertainment industry have reached the boiling point, expressed in the explosive outrage of the Me Too and Time's Up movements, about sexual harassment and abuse of women, believed to be a direct result of their paucity of power in Hollywood.
For example, not one woman was nominated for best director at the Golden Globes — again. In the history of the Academy Awards, only one woman, Kathryn Bigelow, has ever won a best-director Oscar, for The Hurt Locker in 2010.
Not only that, only three other women have ever been nominated in the best-director category: Lina Wertmüller of Italy in 1977 for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion of New Zealand for The Piano in 1994, and American Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation in 2004 (although she did win the Oscar for original screenplay for the film that year).
Why only one woman winner in 90 years? Because you can't win if you aren't nominated, and you can't be nominated if you're never hired.
Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of the Women and Hollywood blog, which advocates for gender equity in Hollywood, has long argued that the entertainment industry has to do better when it comes to hiring women in general and women of color in particular. So she was celebrating on Twitter Tuesday.
"Still feeling the impact of the Greta Gerwig nomination for a movie about a teen girl. When Bigelow was nominated and won it was a war movie. This is a movie about a girl being seen for who she is. That matters."
More generally, Silverstein is so fed up with the place of women in the film industry she favors getting tough on Hollywood since nothing else has worked so far.
"It is beyond time for quotas," she posted in a tweet on Jan. 4. "Every institution across the board must make a public commitment to increasing women and we must hold them to it. Everyone should be raging. Our cultural stories are being hijacked."
Year after year, academic studies by the University of Southern California and San Diego State University, among others, have documented how few women actually run showbiz.
"In 2017, the inequality in women's employment remained staggering," reported Martha Lauzen, head of SDSU's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
“The film industry has utterly failed to address the continuing under-employment of women behind the scenes," she said in The Celluloid Ceiling on Jan. 10. "This negligence has produced a toxic culture that supported the recent sexual harassment scandals and truncates so many women’s careers.”
For 20 years, Lauzen's reports have looked at the employment of women in key behind-the-scenes roles (directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers) on hundreds of the top-grossing films released in a given year.
Her latest report found that only 1% of the top films employed 10 or more women in key behind-the-scenes roles, while 70% of films employed 10 or more men.
"Overall, women comprised only 18% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films in 2017," the report said. "This is virtually the same percentage of women working in these roles 20 years ago (17% in 1998)."
By role, women accounted for 11% of directors, 11% of writers, 19% of executive producers, 25% of producers, 16% of editors, and just 4% of cinematographers, the report says.
Just to pull out a few sobering statistics: 88% of films in 2017 had no women directors, 83% had no women writers, and 96% had no women cinematographers.
Stacy Smith, who also studies gender, racial and ethnic diversity in film for the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg, says there's "an epidemic of invisibility" for women on screen, and it's even worse behind the cameras.
In her latest report, Inclusion in the Director's Chair, issued this month, Smith found only 43 female directors of a total of 1,223 directors across 1,100 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2017.
The annual percentage has been as low as 1.9% (in 2013 and 2014), and no higher than 8% (in 2008), with an overall average of 4% for the 10 years studied.
"For an industry that balks at quota systems, an invisible one seems to be in place when
it comes to female helmers," Smith wrote in the report.
"From this report, it is clear that what is needed is sweeping change — starting from leaders who prioritize inclusion and make decisions to facilitate it, to shareholders who demand more from the companies they support, and ending with consumers, who can loudly voice their objections and their approval for films that align with their values," Smith wrote.
"The patterns illuminated in this study have persisted for over a decade, but that does not mean they have to continue. As the industry finds itself at a crossroads, now is the time for action."