Oscar: Women Directors (Streisand Snub) and Women Producers

With the possible exception of Niki Caro, who directed the sexual harassment courtroom drama, “North Country” starring Charlize Theron, no woman has made this year a high-profile, let alone “Oscar-caliber” picture.

In this respect, women directors are still a vastly underrepresented minority. Moreover, the fact that the few working women specialize in comedy doesn’t make things better.

“Something’s Gotta Give,” Nancy Meyers’ romantic comedy, starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, was a commercial hit and brought an Oscar nomination to Keaton.

But this year, Nora Ephron’s turkey comedy, “Bewitched,” with Nicole Kidman, was both an artistic and commercial disappointment.

For decades, women’s Oscar achievements were not much better than those of African American artists–or other ethnic minorities. Furthermore, in the women’s case, contrary to popular notion, there was actually a backlash compared to their more visible status in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, at the height of the studio system.

Academy’s Two Female Presidents¬†

In its entire history (up to 2005), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has had only two female presidents: Bette Davis and Fay Kanin. It may have been a Freudian slip, but it’s indicative that when the Oscar announcer, Hank Sims, introduced Fay to the show’s TV viewers, he mistakenly referred to her as Mr. Fay Kanin.

In seventy-seven years, only three women have received the Best Director nomination. Last year, Sofia Coppola was singled out as writer and director for “Lost in Translation,” which was nominated for Best Picture. She lost out the directing Oscar to Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”), but at least she won the Original Screenplay Oscar.

In 1993, Jane Campion became the first woman director to be nominated, for “The Piano,” since Lina Wertmuller had received the nod for “Seven Beauties,” in 1976.

Discrimination Against Women

Several women-directed films were nominated for Best Picture, but their helmers were not. “Children of a Lesser God” was nominated in 1986, but not its director, Randa Haines.

“Awakenings” was a 1990 Best Picture nominee, but its helmer Penny Marshall was snubbed by Oscar voters.


If you want to know more about the history and politics of the Oscars, please read my book:

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand, the driving force behind “The Prince of Tides, which grossed over $70 million, was also denied a Best Director nomination in 1991. The omission of Streisand was interpreted as a slight against women directors in general.

Producer Lynda Obst (“The Fisher King”), explained: “When you’re celebrating a woman behind the camera, that’s a woman in power, and people are still uncomfortable with that.”

“Streisand’s snub by the Academy may be less sexism than Barbarism,” wrote Newsweek: “Many in Hollywood consider her self-absorbed, difficult and controlling.”

Streisand did receive a nomination from the Directors Guild, which usually portends Oscar nomination. But in 1991, John Singleton, the 23-year old black director of “Boyz N’ the Hood”‘s fame, took Streisand’s slot. To some, this act suggested the industry’s political correctness at the moment, as though saying: blacks, yes, women, no.

Streisand, however, refused to let the Academy rain on her parade. She told the Los Angeles Times: “I can’t honestly say that I was wronged in any way, since there are a lot of good movies in contention.” At the same time, she allowed that sexism is still a problem: “It’s as if a man were allowed to have passion and commitment to his work, but a woman is allowed that feeling for a man, but not her work.”

A more prevalent trend is for women to produce their Oscar-nominated roles. It began with the entrepreneurial Mary Pickford, who produced “Coquette,” as a star vehicle, for which she undeservedly won the Best Actress.

Women Producing their Own Vehicles

Other Actresses, over the past two decades, who have produced their Oscar-nominated films, include:

Jane Fonda, “The China Syndrome” (1979);

Goldie Hawn, “Private Benjamin” (1980);

Jessica Lange, “Country” (1985);

Bette Midler, “For the Boys” (1991);

Jodie Foster, “Nell” (1994).


This essay was written in 2005.