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Opinion: The overwhelming odds against women in this Oscar category



But this year’s event will be memorable for anyone who could get the best honors. Five years later #OscarsSoWhite The first time it gained momentum, Garret Bradley, the documentary filmmaker behind “Time,” the late actor Chadwick Boseman and filmmaker Chloé Zhao all set out to make history, the kind that has long been so filmmakers and people of color.

It’s the kind of story that only Oscars can certainly make, by virtue of their stature in the film industry.

If Zhao wins for “Nomadland,” she will be the first woman of Asian descent to win an Oscar. She and Emerald Fennell, British director and screenwriter of “Promising young woman, “are both in the category of best director: the only two women in this category, known for leaving out the women they deserved. The latter include: Greta Gerwig for” Little Women “, Marielle Heller for “Can You Ever Pergive Me?” And “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Lulu Wang for “The Farewell,” Alma Har’el for “Honey Boy,” and Regina King, who should have been in contention this year for “A Night in Miami.”)
Before Fennell and Zhao, only five female nominees have been nominated for Best Director, with “The Hurt Locker” by Kathryn Bigelow the only woman win this category in the 92-year history of the Oscars.

If Zhao or Fennell won, it would be a big step forward.

But there is yet another area in which the Oscars continue to fall too short: the recognition of women composers. At last year’s event, Hildur Guðnadóttir won the best original score for “Joker”. Her victory was an anomaly: she was the first woman in 23 years to win the category. This is an industry category that has the highest visibility at the time of the Oscars, making this time a critical time to take stock of the lack of systemic opportunities for women composers in the field. which keeps them largely invisible, despite the innovative work many of them do.
The Icelandic-born composer, born in Iceland, is just one of four women to ever win for this category (One of whom, Marilyn Bergman, shared it with her husband). Formerly, it was awarded in two categories: drama and musical or comedy. And, as of last year, only seven women have been nominated in the scoring categories.
Now, a year after Guðnadóttir said in his acceptance speech, “to the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters, who hear the music boiling inside, please say,‘ no woman is in the race for the best original score. Lolita Ritmanis got it in the list of 15 for having marked the Latvian film “Blizzard of Souls”, but did not continue to include in the final list of nominees.
The urgent question he raises
When King he accepted his Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress in 2019 for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” before winning the Oscar, she challenged those in positions of power within the film industry to work toward gender parity. Frances McDormand (nominated this year for Best Actress for “Nomadland”) did a similar resource the previous year, when she called for the inclusion of pilots as part of her acceptance speech for Best Actress. However, the industry continues to fail to build women composers.
It’s not that women aren’t there or don’t talk, as Guðnadóttir said; several organizations have initiatives for train and guide future composers, like the Sundance Institute Film Music Program, which has an equal number of participating women, and the ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop, which seeks to help women access the industry.
Is that women are not yet given the opportunity to score the types of films to be honored at the Oscars, Ritmanis, one of the founders of the Alliance for Women Composers, he explained to me.
Of the most recent figure available, only 6% of the 250 highest-grossing films of 2018 were made by women, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Cinema based on Box Office Mojo numbers. Similarly, a Study of 2018 of the University of Southern California revealed that for the top 100 box office fiction films each year, from 2007 to 2017, only 16 female songwriters were hired, compared to more than 1,200 men.
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But the fact that they haven’t been hired for the biggest films or have been recognized with awards doesn’t mean women composers haven’t been there all along. They have always been transforming the genre, since the days of the French composer Germaine Tailleferre, paving the way with his first travel notebooks in the mid-1920s to Bebe Barron in the 1950s, modeling electronic sound of “Forbidden Planet” and inspiring science fiction scores that followed, including that of Wendy Carlos work based on the seminal synthesizer in “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Shining” (alongside Rachel Elkind).
The fact that the pioneering American composer Shirley Walker was not even mentioned in the In Memoriam portion of the 79th Academy Awards (while Basil Poledouris, with whom she had collaborated and who died that same year, does not want say not) help shape the careers of Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer, or work his piano magic for Carmine Coppola on “Apocalypse Now” or inspire life animated series “Batman” and “Superman”.

Even occasional movie buffs know the names of Elfman and Zimmer, and many also know Ennio Morricone, Alexandre Desplat, and Newton Howard. But by now, Mica Levi, Anne Dudley, Miriam Cutler, Starr Parodi and Debbie Wiseman should also be equally familiar.


We know of the historical relationships between conductors and composers, from Bernard Hermann and Alfred Hitchcock to Steven Spielberg and John Williams. Where are the tales of women who have influenced masterpieces? That’s my question after Ritmanis told me, “I’d like managers and executives to stop before they go on to hire the same person they always hire … It’s really like a boys club.”

Rachel Portman agreed. The British composer became the first woman -after 52 years of existence in the category- to win the Oscar for his work on “Emma.” That was 24 years ago. In the years following his victory, Portman said to have an Oscar it really helped her outdo people who might have been a little more reluctant to hire her.

“I’ve been expecting things to change for women songwriters all this time a lot more than they’ve had,” she told me recently. “I have no answers. There are only more questions. I wonder if the root of the cause is the perception that women can’t handle great films? I’ve noticed that women filmmakers often work with women composers.”

In fact, before Turkish composer Pinar Toprak wrote the score for “Captain Marvel,” co-directed by Anna Boden, it became the first woman to score a Marvel movie by writing additional music for Elfman’s “Justice League” score. But this is not always the case; some women filmmakers continue to give these opportunities to men, like Tim Greiving noted in the New York Times in 2019. “Wonder Woman 1984,” directed and co-written by Patty Jenkins, was scored by Zimmer and “Mulan,” directed by Niki Caro, was performed by Harry Gregson-Williams.
But achieving gender parity is possible. Four years ago, he founded Mirette Seireg Mpath Music, a music production library that became the first of its kind have half of her songs composed by women. Despite the statistics, Seireg intentionally sought out talented women and created a welcome platform for historically underrepresented composers to thrive.
The music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has also worked to improve women’s participation, thanks to the stature of Laura Karpman and Kathryn Bostic, who became the first female African American music composer. to form part of the Academy (and only in 2016). But as the curtain falls on another awards season, we need to remember that encouraging some forms of progress toward gender equity may not mean leaving behind the overall picture of structural change that is still needed.
In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the new group of composers, like Elena Charbila, who acts and marks films like Kid Moxie, leaning on the dark sensibilities of the 1980s. I want to see more partnerships like director Dee Rees and songwriter Tamar-kali, who have worked together on “Pariah” and “Mudbound.”
And, like Ritmanis, I want women composers who have continued, with or without cheers, to receive their flowers now even though they are with us. Some examples are Emmy nominees Miriam Cutler, for all the dozens of documentary scores he has created, such as “The Hunting Ground” and “RBG” Starr Parodi, to open a trail between movies, movie trailers and television as the only woman in the group “The Arsenio Hall Show”, Debbie Wiseman, to continue to bring classical influences to contemporary dramas, and others that we have not yet heard music.