Feminism / Films

Roll Out the Red Carpet: It’s Time for The Feminist Oscars!

As I’ve shared with you all before, I’m absolutely addicted to awards show.  As the film fanatic that I am, I of course tuned in for The Opinioness’ Super Bowl aka The Oscars.  But as I watched, I was dismayed and frustrated.  Yes, my Natalie Portman won (Harvard-educated, a champion of micro-credit AND a vegan…LOVE her!!) but the only way it seems women can actually win a little golden statue lies in the categories specifically designated for women.  If the Academy discarded the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories, hardly any woman would win…ever.

Just like in politics in which only 17% of women serve in the Legislature, the Oscars are a white male bonanza.  As it stands, only 4 women (4…out of 83 years, people!!) have ever been nominated for a Best Director Oscar with only one, Kathryn Bigelow ever winning.  In producing, only 7 women have won the Best Picture title, all as co-producers with men.  And when we look at women of color, the numbers of female producers winning are nil.  It’s not just a problem of a lack of female-centered films being nominated, although that IS a serious issue.  It’s also a matter of a dearth of work.  Again, when you look to films and roles for women of color, the lack of films being made hurts my heart.

Despite the fact that more women go to the theatre than men, films feature male protagonists.  As I’ve said repeatedly, films with women are seen as revolving in the sphere for women only, whereas women will go see “women’s” films as well as those with men.  However, men don’t usually cross that gendered divide.  We need to stop seeing films with women or made by women as less than men’s creations.  It’s time we put women and their stories in the spotlight too.

Reading my fave blogger Melissa Silverstein at Women and Hollywood ’s thoughts on the Oscars, Stephanie Rogers’ and Amber Leab’s astute feminist commentary of the Oscars and the Independent Spirit Awards at Bitch Flicks (one of my other fave blogs!) along with Amanda Hess’ sharp gender observations of the awards show, bolstered a thought that had been percolating…what we need is a feminist Oscars!  So that’s precisely what I’ve decided to do here.

As a member of the Academy (which Academy you ask…um the Academy of awesome of course! Lame? Perhaps. True?? Definitely.), I didn’t just look at female directors and screenwriters.  I also looked at roles & films that focused on women either from the lens of empowerment or provided a critical commentary on gender.

I wish the Oscars incorporated gender and racial equity, eliminating the need for separate gender categories (or a separate ceremony).  But for now, the Feminist Oscars will have to suffice.  So here’s how the nominations would look…let the debates begin!

BEST PICTURE NOMINEES

Black Swan
With a devastatingly breathtaking performance by Natalie Portman as the perfectionist ballerina struggling to play both the White and Black Swan.  Audiences (ahem, me) were torn.  The haunting and provocative film, which won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Film, simultaneously focuses on women yet pits female characters against one another.  It also provides a commentary on the potential destructive madness of artistic obsession along with society’s demand for women to possess control over their bodies.

Conviction
After her brother is wrongfully incarcerated for murder, his sister spends over a decade fighting for his release.  Hillary Swank (who continually chooses kick-ass roles: Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby, Iron Jawed Angels) portrays the real-life Betty Anne Waters, a single mother and part-time food server who earns her GED, Bachelor’s, Master’s and finally law degree.  She does all of this almost singlehandedly so she can investigate and reopen her brother’s case, all in the hope of having him exonerated.

For Colored Girls
An underrated film based on the ground-breaking feminist choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. Featuring 9 African-American women (Kimberly Elise, Janet Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, Loretta Devine, Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, Thandie Newton, Tessa Thompson) whose lives intertwine and intersect as they endure tragedy and pain.  They struggle to thrive, empower themselves and find their voice.  While the film at times suffers from melodrama, the fierce and fearless performances of the ensemble cast elevate the story.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
A murder mystery featuring one of the most captivating, exhilarating and iconic heroines ever.  A controversial film (and book), some complain about the overt graphic violence to women. Others laud it for its fierce heroine and for addressing the stigma of rape/sexual assault as well as the complexity of gender roles.  It also introduced audiences to punk hacker Lisbeth Salander played perfectly by Noomi Rapace, a  kick-ass, take no prisoners feminist who refuses to be defined by her gender or her fluid sexuality.

The Kids Are All Right
A film about a lesbian couple (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore), their family and how their lives change when they meet their kids’ sperm donor.  The film strives to convey a lesbian couple as a universal family.  While suffering from problematic misogynistic dialogue and too much male-centrism, still a beautiful story about a loving relationship; hopefully paving the way for more films with LGBTQ characters front and center.

Made in Dagenham
A feel-good, humorous film based on the true story of a perky and plucky heroine (Sally Dawkins) who rallied her female co-workers to go on strike at a motor plant in the UK, tired of the sexist and unjust wage system, demanding for equal pay.

Mother and Child
Writer/director Rodrigo Garcia continues to showcase stories about women (as he did in his amazing film Nine Lives).  Starring Annette Bening, Kerry Washington and Naomi Watts, this film explores the terrain of motherhood and adoption, featuring a woman who gave her child up for adoption 3 decades ago, her now grown daughter who’s pregnant and a woman who’s seeking to adopt a child.

Tiny Furniture
Debut film by writer/director/actor Lena Dunham as a woman in her 20s having a quarter century crisis.  Returning home to NYC after graduating college, she struggles to find her place and her way in the world.  With sharp dialogue and wry wit, Dunham’s debut film won the Indie Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.

True Grit
Yes, people focus on the men in this Cohen Brothers Western, particularly Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, an iconic role that earned John Wayne his only Oscar.  Yet Hailee Steinfeld as 14-year-old Mattie Ross is truly the film’s center.  She relentlessly pushes to do whatever the men do (ride horses, shoot guns) as she and two other men search for her father’s killer.

Winter’s BoneWINNER!
Hands down, the most feminist film this year.  Jennifer Lawrence anchors the gritty, unflinching film as Ree Dolly, 17-year-old a fearless powerhouse caring for her sick mother and little brother and sister in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri.  When their house is threatened to be taken away, she embarks on a quest to search for her meth-dealing father.  Lawrence as Ree gives a subtle yet powerful performance breaking every gender stereotype.  She chops wood and wants to join the Army as well as cooks meals, washes clothes and practices mathematical equations and vocab with her brother and sister.  She embodies both the matriarch and patriarch of her immediate family all while being so young herself.  Ree fearlessly refuses to take no for an answer in a poverty-entrenched patriarchal society continually striving to put her in her place.  Lawrence imbues Ree with a tenacious ferocity and confidence yet vulnerability rarely seen on-screen.

BEST FEMALE ACTOR NOMINEES

Annette Bening – The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman – Black Swan
Noomi Rapace – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – WINNER!
Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit
Hillary Swank – Conviction
Michelle Williams – Blue Valentine

Okay, so I cheated here a bit.  There were so many amazing performances (and I probably could have included many more) that I eschewed 5 nominees and went with 8.  My fave performances of 2010 were Natalie Portman, Jennifer Lawrence and Noomi Rapace.  Portman was the industry darling this year (winning the Spirit Award, Golden Globe and Oscar) and her performance captivated and enthralled.  But Rapace and Lawrence ever so slightly elevated their portrayals. Lawrence simply blew me away with her subtle strength.  She too became synonymous with her role.  I’m not sure where Ree ended and Lawrence began.  You could feel her struggles as she bore the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Rapace perfectly stepped into the role of a lifetime as Lisbeth Salander.  Training for 7 months for the part, she embodied her character’s fierce strength.  With a lift of her chin or narrowing of her eyes, Rapace conveyed an array of emotions.  She not only played Lisbeth, she became Lisbeth.  I was incredibly torn.  If I could choose both Rapace and Lawrence I would…they were both flawless.

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE ACTOR NOMINEES

Amy Adams – The Fighter
Kimberly Elise – For Colored Girls – WINNER!
Melissa Leo – The Fighter
Phylicia Rashad – For Colored Girls
Miranda Richardson – Made in Dagenham

While I love Melissa Leo in everything (and I have to admit I haven’t seen The Fighter yet) and she won the Oscar and Golden Globe, Kimberly Elise gives one of the bravest, most tender yet subtle performances, as a survivor of domestic violence, I’ve ever seen.

BEST DIRECTOR NOMINEES

Lisa Cholodenko – The Kids Are All Right
Sofia Coppola – Somewhere
Debra Granik – Winter’s Bone – WINNER!
Lena Dunham – Tiny Furniture
Nicole Holofcener – Please Give
Tanya Hamilton – Night Catches Us

I cheated again with 6 nominations!  I had to vote for Debra Granik, whose unwavering vision makes for a flawless film.

BEST SCREENPLAY NOMINEES

Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg – The Kids Are All Right – WINNER!
Lena Dunham – Tiny Furniture
Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini – Winter’s Bone
Tanya Hamilton – Night Catches Us
Nicole Holofcener – Please Give

While I had problems with some of the misogynistic dialogue, Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg’s screenplay, which won the Independent Spirit Award, conveyed realistic yet tender dialogue and a captivating story.

So what do you think of the 1st Annual Feminist Oscars?? How would you have voted??

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4 thoughts on “Roll Out the Red Carpet: It’s Time for The Feminist Oscars!

  1. I told you “Winter’s Bone” was phenomenal!

    My sister recomended it, and i expected to like it, yet i was blown away by it.
    It had the perfect mix of stellar direction, acting, story & musical score.
    Every piece fit together so beautifully, a true work of art.

    I loved the character of Ree Dolly, right from the begining.
    Jennifer Lawrence played her with just the right amount of toughness, along with traces of fragility & vulnerability, which made her all the more human.
    The film had me from the opening shot, straight through that amazing final song, during the credits (made me choke up, a bit).

    Debra Granik, as director extraordinaire, and Jennifer Lawrence, deserved more than just a nomination.
    Sadly, Lawrence’s great talent will be wasted in an upcoming “X-Men” sequel.
    Hollywood already has it’s hooks in her, unfortunately.

  2. While I really, REALLY liked Winter’s Bone, the relatively slow first half keeps me from agreeing with you on it’s awesomeness. I’ve probably underrated it a bit, especially since it’s a film I couldn’t take my eyes away from and the acting from Lawrence (and co-star John Hawkes) was absolutely perfect. The second half of the film might just be one of the best of 2010. Granik did a great job with what she had as director, and these days I feel bad about it not cracking my top 10 (an audit would probably get it in there). Hmm… Maybe I did love this film.

  3. You bastard, i loved the first half! (Kidding about the “bastard” part)

    The first half was beautiful & set the tone of the film.
    You see the enviornment, the extreme poverty, the hand-outs from neighbors, and most importantly, you get a terrific sense of the character, Ree Dolly.
    You see what she’s made of, just by observation.
    You feel the strength within this young girl, the determination to get by.

    I thought it was a nice set-up, because you get to know who these people are, before
    the Sheriif comes knocking.

  4. Pingback: Why We Need More Female Characters in Film Like ‘Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen | Fem2pt0

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