Oscars 2022: VFX:–Most Non-Diverse Academy Branch

VFX: Most Non-Diverse Academy Branch: “We’ve Got Lot of Ground to Make Up”

Despite aggressive inclusion efforts by the voting group, visual effects’ lack of representation stems from early gender disparities.


In 2016, Sara Bennett, one of the co-founders of U.K.-based Milk VFX, was part of the team that won an Oscar for the visual effects in Ex Machina.

The win felt portentous. Bennett was just the second woman to win an Oscar for visual effects — the first was Suzanne Benson, an artist on 1986’s Aliens — and Bennett was the first female visual effects supervisor to win, a powerful position in the field. The honor also came in a year when the Academy was launching an aggressive inclusion drive. Surely Bennett would have company before long.

But over the next six years, only one other woman was nominated in the category, no woman has won again, and no woman is nominated this year.

The visual effects branch, meanwhile, remains the most male-dominated and the whitest of the Academy’s 17 voting branches.

Between 2016 and 2021, an era when the Academy has been aggressively focused on inviting women and people of color, only 17.4 percent of the new members the visual effects branch invited were female, and just 14.5 percent of them were nonwhite.

A general view of the 94th Oscar red carpet area being constructed at Dolby Theatre on March 23, 2022 in Hollywood, California.

“It’s still an issue, unfortunately,” says Bennett. “A lot of us have been making recommendations to the membership committee to get more women into the Academy to help move toward leveling the playing field. The issue is also getting more women into the top-tier roles.”

Some of the challenge has to do with the state of the industry, where visual effects firms are competing with such deep-pocketed companies as Apple, Google and Meta for creative, tech-savvy talent from underrepresented groups. Girls also are not as likely to be encouraged to pursue VFX careers, says Janet Lewin, senior vp and GM of Industrial Light & Magic, which is nominated this year for its visual effects work on No Time to Die and Free Guy. “Young women, they’re not necessarily groomed to be confident to explore these types of roles and opportunities,” Lewin says. “The industry was so male-dominated previously, especially in the creative and technical fields, that we’ve got a lot of ground to make up. These careers take a long time.”

Lazy loaded image

The problem also is related to how the visual effects branch views its own talent. Many of the women who work in effects today are visual effects producers, not supervisors like Bennett or artists like Benson, but people who play the same creative and managerial role in the realm of visual effects that regular producers do in the traditional live-action world. The visual effects branch, however, doesn’t admit them, due to what many consider the outdated notion that VFX producers play an uncreative role on a film, and neither does the Academy’s producers branch. Lewin is part of the Academy’s branch of members at large, a kind of catchall category that also includes agents and film festival programmers. Even Lynwen Brennan, the executive vp and GM of Lucasfilm, who received the Visual Effects Society’s lifetime achievement award on March 8, is not in the visual effects branch.

“We could get more balance by allowing VFX producers into the [visual effects] branch,” says Bennett. “There are a lot more female producers than supervisors out there currently, and as we all know, they are equally as important as the VFX supervisors.”

As the branch weighs these changes, visual effects companies are working on recruiting and mentoring a more diverse workforce. ILM has a program called the Jedi Academy, which trains talent from underrepresented groups, and Bennett is a proponent of a U.K.-based mentoring program called Prospela. Says Bennett, “It makes for much richer storytelling and creativity if we get this balance right.”