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Time's up on #TimesUp at the Oscars


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 There were some changes to this year’s Oscars, but are they enough?

Line up of Oscars statuettes 5th March

Image courtesy of Disney/ABC

In light of the accusations levelled against Casey Affleck, best actress was announced not by the previous winner of best actor, but by Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster. Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated for best cinematography. The talking point of the evening was Best Actress Winner Frances McDormand’s speech, which encouraged all female nominees to stand together and celebrate. It felt like quite a different ceremony.

Yet, dig a little deeper, and things don’t seem quite so rosy. Two winners, Gary Oldman (Best Actor) and Kobe Bryant (Best Animated Short), have caused eyebrows to raise in light of their pasts. Bryant was charged with sexual assaulting a waitress in 2003, a case which never came to court, but which he later settled in a civil case. Oldman was accused of assaulting his ex-wife in 2001, although no charges were ever brought. Despite the lack of convictions, the privileged position these two men were given at last night’s awards has to make us wonder how seriously the Academy is taking their commitment to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

Gary Oldman on a red carpet 5th March

And it’s not just the Academy whose involvement has made me uncomfortable. Seeing the pride with which guests at the 2018 Golden Globes and Grammys wore black outfits and white flowers left me wondering what they were hoping to achieve. Following Frances McDormand’s rejection of a similar dress code at the BAFTAs because she "[has] a little trouble with compliance," she received widespread adulation both in the auditorium and online. In contrast, the Duchess of Cambridge’s non-black dress was the subject of attention in mainstream and social media, despite the Royal Family rarely engaging in political movements in public. These divergent perceptions of McDormand (a hero) and the Duchess (unsupportive) seem to act against the point of #MeToo, which encourages female solidarity and cohesion.

Besides which, choosing a glamorous black gown which guarantees media coverage isn't a hardship for the Hollywood elite – it’s not as if they wouldn’t have had their pick of the finest and freshest couture. Given that a little black dress is most women’s go-to outfit for a formal event, it’s not even as if the colour was especially significant. As the colour of mourning, one has to question exactly what they were grieving for: The lost innocence? The women who have been affected? Or the old way of doing things?

Of course, wearing symbolic items didn’t start and end with the #TimesUp movement. From poppies to ribbons to wristbands, charities have employed the tactic for many years, whilst most of us can remember school non-uniform days which asked us to wear silly socks, pink tops or crazy hats for a specific cause. The difference here is that the main reason for wearing these items was to encourage us to donate money. With #TimesUp, wearing the items seems to be the main event.

That’s not to say that 2018 hasn’t seen some changes. This year, only two of the Oscar Best Picture nominations didn’t pass the Bechdel test, in itself an outdated measure used to analyse how woman-friendly a film is. To pass, a film needs to have two women who talk to each other about something (anything!) other than men. This year, only Dunkirk and Darkest Hour failed to meet this quite basic benchmark, which is a step up on last year when more than half the nominated films failed, including the winner, Moonlight. Still, can we really call it progress when only half the Oscar winning Best Pictures of the past decade have passed the test, in comparison with 70% during the 1990s?

Let’s go deeper still, past the headlines and speeches. Of the nine nominated Best Pictures this year, only three had women listed as directors or writers. The rest were all-round male projects. The significance of this is debatable, but it seems impossible that so few women are creating and telling stories of consequence and quality. That it’s taken until 2018 for a woman to even be nominated for best cinematographer should ring alarm bells, especially as Rachel Morrison’s standing within the industry is such that she was chosen to work on Marvel’s Black Panther. How has she gone unrecognised for so long by the Academy?

And then we come to money. A dirty word, maybe, but even dirtier are the kinds of inequality that still exist within the film industry, even at the very highest level. According to Forbes, of the top thirty highest-earning actors between June 2016 and June 2017, the top fourteen were all male. Only ten women were even named on the list, whilst the top man, Mark Wahlberg, received over twice as much as the top woman, Emma Stone. It’s worth noting that Wahlberg, despite being nominated, has never won an Oscar or a Golden Globe; Stone has won both.

Me Too on a computer screen 5th March

You might argue that the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements’ real effects are yet to be felt, with the changes we’ve seen at this year’s awards ceremonies just a stepping stone to better things. But #MeToo is over a decade old now, having been started on MySpace in 2006 by civil rights’ activist Tarana Burke. Her purpose was to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual assault and abuse in women’s everyday lives, a purpose still relevant today, where 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted and between 20 and 53 per cent of women report having been sexually harassed at work. Yet it took 11 years for #MeToo to reach the mainstream, only being picked up by Hollywood following the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

This reactivity instead of proactivity is something which needs to change going forwards, and that’s going to be the interesting thing to see. That we’re now talking about the issue and statistics like those above are so prevalent in the media is in part due to these campaigns, but there’s a long way to go. Dress codes and rhetoric only go so far, because this issue is bigger than wearing black dresses or white roses, rewarding women writers or actresses. It’s bigger than the Academy or Hollywood, and it’s time that the film industry recognised that.

It’s time #TimesUp worked for the rest of us too.

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