With the Academy Awards less than two weeks away, we thought it was time for an Oscar-themed Wednesday—one that continues the dialogue about women in film. This year, we found plenty to cheer—Ellen De Generes as host, a pioneering Academy president, a field of Best Actresses all of whom fit WVFC’s profile—while noticing that Hollywood still doesn’t quite know how to celebrate us properly.

1.

Madam President Presides Over a Diverse Year

cheryl-boone-isaacs-grabThere is only one person at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences who has been its secretary, treasurer, and Foundation president before also being elected Academy president last year. You’re likely as unsurprised as we are that that person is female: What may be more surprising is that  Cheryl Boone Isaacs is also the first African-American president of Hollywood’s top organization. But she started at the bottom, reports her hometown newspaper near Boston: “She recalled how she arrived in Los Angeles without a job and went door-to-door looking for work. She found it as a publicist at Columbia Pictures assigned to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Now she’s presiding over an industry both changed and unchanged, and what has been called the most diverse Oscar season ever.

This past Saturday night, Boone was also honored at the televised 45th NAACP Image Awards as she was inducted into the Image Awards Hall of Fame. Talking to Reuters about that honor and the year, Boone said that diversity was about different narrative voices: “Put simply, people with different experiences have different stories to tell. Boone Isaacs calls it the best year for performances and films ‘in the last decade or so,’ and said there are ‘quite a few films that give us a different voice, a more diverse voice.’  ”

 

2.  The Best Boomer Actress Award . . . but What About Our Bodies?

694613-best-actress-nominees-for-2014-oscarsThat diverse voice is being rendered, in part, by our all-WVFC-eligible Best Actress field, as noted by Kathryn Laskaris in the  Toronto Star. After applauding Sandra Bullock’s virtuoso turn in Gravity, Laskaris adds that “the youngest of Bullock’s competition for Best Actress is American Hustle’s Amy Adams, and she turns 40 in August. The oldest is the star of Philomena, Judi Dench, at 79. The other two Best Actress nominees are Blue Jasmine’s Cate Blanchett, 44, and August: Osage County’s Meryl Streep, 64.” However, Laskaris’s thoughtful piece continues, that doesn’t mean that Hollywood has come to affirm older women. “There’s nothing new under the sun, of course, and Hollywood still has a hard time figuring out what to do with its women. Can a woman just be an astronaut? Nope. She’s got to be an astronaut with great legs. Can an “older” woman be sexy? Well maybe, but only if she looks like a younger one.”

Similar concerns are voiced by Huffington Post‘s Holly Derr, who looks at the Best Picture nominees: “Only three of the nine films nominated this year even have women in leading roles: American Hustle, Gravity and Philomena. [But] perhaps as significant as the lack of women characters is the treatment in these films of women’s bodies. The main female character in Her is not even human, allowing the film and its central relationship to avoid dealing with the messy reality of women with bodies. In Dallas Buyers Club, one of the two female-gender-identified characters is played by a cisgender man, effectively replacing a body that would raise interesting questions about the difference between sex and gender with one that is much easier to understand. One cannot help but wonder, if a trans actor had played the role, in which category would she be eligible for a nomination?” Not to mention the astronaut in her underwear.

3.But Then There’s Judi Dench

Philomena-Poster-438x650Not long after the release of Philomena, based in the true story of the Catholic Church’s seizure of the babies of unwed mothers,  critics were naming it as Oscar gold for its star, the singular Judi Dench.  In New York Magazine, Richard Edelstein writes that Dame Judi brings one such mother to life with full humour:

Her elfin face is here soft and guileless; her eyes shine. She lets us see that Philomena’s idle chatter— her homilies, her breathless plot synopses isn’t so idle after all. It’s her stubborn romanticism and sense of wonder that has pulled this woman though. Philomena fights every day against the idea of her own guilt. As a girl, she didn’t know not to let boys touch her private parts—because neither the sisters nor her church-fearing relatives told her what they were for. (“I didn’t even know I had a clitoris, Martin.”

 Whether or not she wins, we find true inspiration in Dame Judi’s important performance.

 

 

 

 

4. Look to the Future at the Athena Film Festival

AthenaFilmFestSpeaking of inspiration, the Athena Film Festival at Barnard College has been supporting, incubating, and promoting women filmmakers for years. It’s cheering, as the Oscars approach, to call attention to some of the WOMENPOWERED films that were exhibited at the Athena Festival early this month.

The week’s current releases included Jennifer Lee’s current hit Frozen,  a contender for the award for Best Animated Feature Film, and usually overlooked gems such as Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12, “told through the eyes of Grace, a twenty-something supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers,” and Lake Bell’s Sundance-winning In a World. And also ATHENA’S rich set of documentaries this year, including celebrations of WVFC icons Geraldine Ferraro and Diana Nyad.

 

5. And Your Host Is . . .

Remember last year’s Oscar telecast hosted by Seth McFarlane? Still trying to forget it, especially “I Saw Your Boobs”?  Women deserved better this year—and got it, in Ellen DeGeneres.

This week, People magazine  interview spotlit the now-ubiquitous talk show host and gave a primer for those still skeptical: “Ellen DeGeneres On Life, the Oscars and Finding True Love.” And the Mirror UK collected for us some of De Generes’s funniest video moments to date.  If you need to be reassured that this year’s telecast will be funny and not mean, check out clips of Ellen awarding Best Game Show at  the daytime Emmys, accepting an Emmy for her 1997 coming-out episode of Ellen, and nearly Hoovering up Penelope Cruz’s award gown just before the 2007 Oscars. We’ll enjoy live blogging your show next Sunday, Ellen!

 

 RELATED: This Sunday, March 2, we’ll be live-blogging the Academy Awards, as we do every year. We invite all Oscar mavens to log in and join the conversation as the show rolls on. And it is a conversation; the participants tend to react to one another’s remarks. (Scroll down to the bottom of last year’s live blog to see what we mean.)

Later this week we’ll put up a post that tells you how to log in.

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