Reflecting on the 91st Academy Awards

Ruth E. Carter

This past weekend’s Academy Awards made headlines for celebrating the most female nominees in the event’s history, and for recognizing the talent of diverse women in front of and behind the camera.

Before Sunday night, only one black woman had ever won an Oscar in a non-acting category, when Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling” won top honors for Best Original Song. 35 years later, costume designer Ruth E. Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler joined her ranks for their work on BLACK PANTHER. In Carter’s words, “this has been a long time coming.”

In an affecting acceptance speech, Beachler spoke to women, girls, and anyone who could be inspired by her example. “I give this strength to all of those who come next, to keep going, to never give up,” she said. “And when you think it’s impossible, just remember to say this piece of advice I got from a very wise woman: I did my best, and my best is good enough.”

The topic of women working below-the-line was highlighted at the 12th Annual Women In Film Oscar Nominees Party on Friday night. The evening’s co-host, three-time Academy Award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell spoke to the crowd, saying, “I would love to be working with female grips and electricians one day. … We need to mentor and encourage them to join us.” Powell later added, “We should also encourage men and boys to join us.”

As Women In Film Executive Director Kirsten Schaffer reflected on the changes we’ve witnessed in the industry over the past twelve years, she encouraged female nominees and all in attendance to use events like this one to cultivate important professional relationships.

Among the nominees present were Sunday night’s winners Kate Biscoe (Makeup, VICE), Jaime Ray Newman (Live Action Short, SKIN), Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Shannon Dill (Documentary Feature, FREE SOLO), Domee Shi & Becky Neiman-Cobb (Animated Short, BAO), Rayka Zehbtachi & Melissa Berton (Documentary Short, PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE.), and Best Supporting Actress winner Regina King (IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK).

Sandy Powell
Regina King and Cathy Schulman

Despite the record-breaking number of female nominees at the 91st Academy Awards, we must continue to work towards greater parity, so that more women are given opportunities to be considered among the best in the business. In a year when some of the best-reviewed films were directed by women who were passed over for nominations, King’s speech at January’s Golden Globe Awards resonates.

“I’m going to use my platform right now to say in the next two years, everything that I produce, I’m making a vow—it’s going to be tough—to make sure that everything that I produce, that is 50% women. And I just challenge anyone out there—anyone out there who is in a position of power, not just in our industry, in all industries—I challenge you to challenge yourselves and stand with us in solidarity and do the same,” King said.

Concluding this look back on the awards season for 2018 in film, we turn to the Independent Spirit Awards, held on Saturday, February 23. Film Independent nominated three female directors, and honored LEAVE NO TRACE’s Debra Granik with the BONNIE Award, recognizing her body of work. Christina Choe’s NANCY, a recipient of the Women In Film Finishing Fund, also received two nominations.

When Barry Jenkins took the stage to accept the Best Director Award for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, he echoed King’s Golden Globes speech, addressing the creators and financiers in the audience to say, “If even just 30% of us agreed with Regina to, in the next 18 months, produce or finance a film directed by a woman, that 4% [of studio directors that are women] would become the 8%, would become the 12%, would become the 16%…”

We hope that Jenkins’ words resonated with those in the room that needed to hear them: “I cannot make a movie about women without women’s voices at the forefront.”