The Academy Award nominations for 2020 were revealed on Monday, and something immediately stood out when I looked at the lists of nominees - films with men at the forefront had a much stronger presence than films led by women.
The Academy does have categories that acknowledge movies with female protagonists, namely those that honor actresses in leading and supporting roles. A closer look at these two categories, though, especially at the leading actress category, shows that the movies that made the cut are, well, not nominated in many other categories.
I want to make a quick distinction - I’m not looking purely at the number of women nominated across all the Academy’s categories. It’s been well established in past years that the Academy has a problem with diversity, both in terms of the number of women and people of color it recognizes, and this issue has without a doubt shown itself in stark relief once again in 2020. What I’m pointing out about this year’s nominations is something slightly different, something that wasn’t even the case last year: women-led films, regardless of whether their directors or the rest of their production teams were made up of men, are being nominated less.
So, with that, let’s take a closer look at the numbers.
The movies with the most nominations (by far) this year are Joker with 11, followed by Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, The Irishman and 1917, each with 10.
I’m guessing you can see what all of these have in common. In case you haven’t seen any of these movies, I’ll tell you – their main characters (and most of their casts, really) are men.
All four of these top films carry nominations both for bBest picture and bBest director. Two of them (Joker and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) are led by leading actors who are nominated; and two (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and The Irishman) feature supporting actors that are nominated.
Meanwhile, of the five films whose leading women are nominated for best actress, only two (Marriage Story and Little Women) are nominated for best picture and not one was nominated for best director. Only two of the best actress-nominated movies were directed by women, so it’s not even just that female directors are being left out of the bigger categories - it’s that movies featuring women in leading roles are.
Not to mention that, in my opinion, it’s hard to say that Marriage Story was really led by a woman - Scarlett Johansson may have been the leading actress, but she shared the spotlight equally with Adam Driver. The rest of the male-led movies, on the other hand, exclusively showcase other men in leading roles (just look at the supporting actor category - the actors are all supporting other male actors). In other words, Little Women is arguably the only truly female-led film to receive a hefty number of nominations with six.
Even the nominations in the categories that some might consider to hold less weight, such as best animated feature film and both best screenplay categories, reveal the domination of male-led movies. Frozen II, led by two women, was notably missing from the animated nominees – instead, all five star male main characters. Similarly, only two out of the 10 movies nominated for best screenplay (once again, Marriage Story and Little Women) have women front and center.
Now, you might be thinking – you already said the Academy largely nominates and gives its awards to men and that it always has. This year is clearly no different.
That may be true, but there’s another layer to it this year that wasn’t present in the past few.
Let’s compare this year’s stats to some of the numbers from last year and 2018. As mentioned above, we saw that none of the four movies with the most nominations in 2020 feature lead actresses, and two out of the five women nominated for best leading actress participated in movies that were also nominated for best picture. Last year, the movies with the most nominations were Roma and The Favourite, which each had 10, followed closely by Vice and A Star is Born, each with 8. All of these movies were directed by men, but out of 2019’s top four, three films had female main characters. On a similar note, three out of the five women nominated for best actress also had their movie nominated for best picture. In 2018, The Shape of Water led the pack with 13 nominations, followed by Dunkirk with 8 and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with 7. Once again, all three of these were directed by men, but two out of these three had leading actresses as opposed to actors, and four out of the five women nominated for lead actress in 2018 were featured in best picture-nominated films.
So … the numbers have gone down this year, and they’ve done so pretty significantly if you ask me.
I’m not necessarily going to blame the Academy for this decrease: I remember thinking in the fall, when I started seeing trailers for movies that were generating awards buzz, that I was seeing very few films with leading women. Whether it’s the industry or Academy’s fault, though, doesn’t really matter. The point is that this discrepancy between the number of men and women at the vanguard of the film industry continues to exist and that, based on this year’s nominations, it seems to be growing.