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Last week, Sexist readers discussed Bob Mondello‘s suggestion that the Academy “unsex the Oscars” by combining the Best Actor and Best Actress categories for one big co-ed competition. Counter-point: The sex-segregated acting awards have rewarded filmmakers who write strong female characters, and it’s no coincidence that categories that haven’t made an effort to award women in film have remain dominated by men.

We report, you decide, after the jump:

kza is unconcerned with the gender disparity in the behind-the-camera awards:

Forty percent of the best picture hopefulls have a woman as a writer, co-writer, or director. The Hurt Locker was directed by a woman and that has 9 nominations. I think we’re ok to make it one category for acting.

I’m unconvinced:

This is the first year that the academy has decided to expand its Best Picture noms to a roster of ten, and I think that move will open up the playing field for films that haven’t traditionally been honored by the academy. Some of these films will be films by women.

However, I’m not sure your calculation is particularly significant. A woman co-wrote District 9; women directed An Education and The Hurt Locker; I’m not sure where you’re getting the fourth out of the ten—maybe Sapphire, who wrote the novel Precious was based on? If I’m missing a lady in here, let me know.

So, you’ve listed four women out of what is (at least!) 20 positions, which is not a very strong showing.

Furthermore, half of these women were not nominated in their respective categories: Bigelow was nominated as Director, but Lone Scherfig wasn’t. Terri Tatchell, who was nominated alongside Neill Blomkamp for District 9 for adapted screenplay, was the only woman to be nominated in either of the screenwriting categories. If Precious wins, only Geoffrey Fletcher will win the award, as Sapphire won’t be awarded for writing the source material.

Obviously, Kathryn Bigelow’s film garnering nine nominations is a great step forward (although, going back to Mondello’s thesis, this is one “women’s picture” that inspired ZERO acting nominations [Correction: Thanks to commenter monjaloca for pointing out that Jeremy Renner was nominated for the Hurt Locker]). But women filmmakers are far from out of the woods as far as Hollywood support is concerned

Manos Torgo administers some edits to Mondello’s history:

I read Mondello’s article and don’t see where this fear of women sweeping categories is a “fun fact.” How does he know this was a motivating factor?

While there is certainly tons of sexism in entertainment and other businesses, the idea that men were afraid women would win awards is downright laughable. I have no doubt that the men in Hollywood have big egos and consider some awards or fields belong to them, like directing. But Mondello and others assume that the original Academy regarded an Oscar for directing to be on par with an Oscar for acting. This assumption ignores the traditional and still held differences in how the business views those in front of the camera with those behind it.

Most of the early “technical” jobs in film were held by men and therefore needed no category based on gender. The first awards made no room for costume, makeup, etc. But because since day one of films, people, especially men wanted to see gorgeous women on screen, so actresses were in demand.

Look at how our society placed huge importance on Miss America pageants…do you see men worrying about Mr. America or Mr. Universe pageants? Are those televised?

If in 1929 there was just a single award for Best Actor, men would not have cared that Janet Gaynor beat Emil Jannings. It wouldn’t be some type of blow against patriarchy. At that time and as now, there is a difference between being in front of and behind the camera. Just as in fishing there is a difference between the fisherman and the bait. So I reject Mondello’s assumption of “facts” without evidence.

As far as current proposal, that’s up to the Academy. Its their award and makes little difference to me. But if there were only one category, you can bet that nominations would look very differently, so I wouldn’t compare current nom’s against each other. 2001 would have had Denzel Washington against Halle Berry…So if we want to talk gender, great…but let’s also not forget about Hollywood and race too.

Liz name-checks female-directed film The Squeakel:

I’d point out that not only have only 4 women been nominated for Best Director that there were very few female directors at the time they began the Academy Awards, and it’s really only been the past 25 years that there has been an influx of female directors. Therefore only recently would they have any need to make a best female director category. Also, out of the four nominated female directors–2 were foreign directors. So based on some ridiculous logic, you could say that half of the “respectable”* female directors out there are foreign, and we all know how hard it is to be nominated for anything aside for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars (Slumdog Millionaire being the first “foreign” film to really sweep to awards).

If anything, his argument seems to support a female director category rather than de-sexing the acting awards. Regardless of what Mondello thinks, the reason there is a Best Actress position is because it was the only place women were encouraged to work in the industry. I have a feeling, it wasn’t because men were afraid the women would win, but that the women had to fight to get their recognition from the men.

*I put “respectable” in quotes because there are plenty of women directors but they do things such as The Squeakel or Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, AKA films that would never get them nominated. Look at Amy Heckerling, she did great work with Fast Times and Clueless, but those are “teen” movies that would never be considered.

While snobographer pulls the Titanic card:

Female directors make touchy feely movies like The Hurt Locker and American Psycho and Boys Don’t Cry and Monster.

Male directors make hard-edged movies like Titanic and Valentine’s Day and The English Patient.

If Mondello is of the belief that female movies are “touchy-feely” and male movies aren’t, he’s too misinformed to be making this argument.

Slumdog Millionaire was directed by Danny Boyle and produced by a U.S. studio, otherwise it would have went to the Best Foreign Film category. Also, Loveleen Tandan co-directed it with practically no acknowledgment outside feminist circles. Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! was a far superior movie concerning the same subject matter and only got one Oscar nom (Best Foreign).

Also also, foreign films used to be included in the Best Director category until Lina Wertmüller was nominated for directing Seven Beauties in 1975. She was the first woman ever nominated for a Best Director Oscar.

AND also also also, the reason there are so few female directors is the film industry is and has always been based on exclusionary white male cronyism. Female film-makers don’t get funding for big projects.

Photo by Dave_B_, Creative Commons attribution license 2.0