Women at the Oscars Set Tone on Inclusion, Harassment for Intl Women's Day

Mar 8, 2018

Many speeches at the Academy Awards, including most prominently Best Actress Winner Frances McDormand's, included calls for change on women's inclusion and an end to harassment.
Credit Oscars by euronews

International Women's Day Thursday got a boost Sunday night, as the Oscars ushered in a week of conversations about the representation, inequality and sexual harassment of women in the workplace. 

The Oscars’ host and presenters alike made biting jokes and comments about the treatment of women—unequal pay, lack of representation, and sexual assault.  But some progress in certain areas was noted.  A woman, Greta Gerwig, was nominated for Best Director for "Lady Bird." And for the first time, a woman, Rachel Morrison was a nominee for Best Cinematography for "Mudbound."  Nancy Keefe-Rhodes is part of the Women’s Film Critics’ Circle and teaches film at Syracuse University.  She believes tides might be turning.

Nancy Keefe Rhodes is a film expert and writer, who also teaches film courses at Syracuse University.

"I think you see that because the woman who shot 'Black Panther' and 'Mudbound' is the same cinematographer. And so you’re seeing some nominations that have never occurred. Greta Gerwig would have been only the second woman to win an Oscar for directing. So, you’re seeing some shifts, but the shifts are more than just a single token shift."

“If I may be so honored to have all the female nominees in every category stand with me in this room tonight. The actors—Meryl if you do it everybody else will, come on. The filmmakers, the producers, the directors, the writers, the cinematographer, the composers, the song writers, the designers. Come on!” 

Best Actress Oscar Winner Frances McDormand used her speech to draw attention to women nominees, saying, “If I may be so honored to have all the female nominees in every category stand with me in this room tonight. The actors—Meryl if you do it everybody else will, come on. The filmmakers, the producers, the directors, the writers, the cinematographer, the composers, the song writers, the designers. Come on!” She called on them to use their clout by demanding an inclusion rider when hired for a film. Keefe- Rhodes says that’s only one kind of progress needed.

“The themes in movies have to change and how women are portrayed has to change. Who works on a film has to change, which is what the whole thing about the inclusion rider is. It says, in order to get me in your film, you have to also have other diverse people throughout the people working on this film.”

The content and storylines of movies can also have an impact.  Keefe-Rhoades notes movies are a great socializer, showing a strong woman in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," and same-sex romance in "Call me By Your Name."

"They teach us how to get along with each other, they teach us what romance is supposed to look like. They teach us what the American dream is supposed to look like. And they reflect whether the genders are getting along with each other, what’s happening in race relations."

LeMoyne College English and Film Studies Professor Julie Grossman agrees movies do impact society...for good and bad.

"Films reinforce ideological norms, but they also can challenge them and, you know, raise issues that then get talked about in the popular media and that can sort of shift the discussion in important ways."

The event also included statements of support for the Me Too and Times Up movements, as Hollywood has no shortage of scandals over the mistreatment of women.

"In terms of sexual harassment, I think that there has been a kind of new consciousness about the extent to which women are objectified in Hollywood, and that is going to change the culture."

She suggests even the Best Picture winner, "The Shape of Water," might reflect Hollywood’s mood because of that attention—the film’s not too veiled theme is empathy.