Should the Oscars Have Gender-Based Quotas?

The Oscars

Another year, another list of Academy Award winners disappoints the masses. Over the years, The Academy has faced sharp criticism from viewers who are upset at the lack of diversity in the award ceremony’s nominees and winners. 

A few years back, #OscarsSoWhite trended on Twitter, and celebrities boycotted the show to draw attention to how white the list of nominees was. The criticism was heeded by The Academy, which vowed to double the number of women and people of color in its membership by 2020, which it successfully achieved. 

Despite this, the Oscars continue to catch heat, year after year, when the Oscar hopefuls people wish to be nominated are snubbed. Despite two women winning Best Director back-to-back in the past two years, the Academy is being accused once again of refusing to recognize female talent by failing to nominate any women in its Best Director category this year.

Who Makes Up the Academy?

The Oscars
Image Credit: ABC News.

The Academy is comprised of over 9,000 members. Since The Academy intentionally sought out a more diverse membership, the formerly 94% white and 73% male members are now much more diverse. As of 2022, members are 67% male and 33% female, 81% are white, and 19% are “underrepresented minorities.” 

The Board of Governors in charge of the Academy Awards now has a higher proportion of women than men, with 31 female members and just 23 males. The board of governors directs the Academy’s strategic vision, preserves the organization’s financial health, and assures the fulfillment of its mission.

To become an Academy member, you need to be sponsored by two members of the same branch they are seeking admission into. Seventeen different branches make up the different achievements in film, such as directing, acting, cinematography, etc. 

In each category, the nominees and winners are decided by their peers. Directors vote for the best directors, and actors vote for the best actors. The exception is Best Picture, which members of all categories vote on.

While most members need to be sponsored by two other members, the exception to this would be Academy winners, who are automatically considered for membership without sponsorship. It’s the Board of Directors who considers the approval of all members.

Do Women Face Barriers to Nomination?

Historically, few women have been nominated for Best Director. Only seven women have ever been nominated; of those, only three have won. The first time a woman was nominated in this category was in 1977, for Lina Wertmüller’s Seven Beauties

The first female winner wasn’t until 2010 when Kathryn Bigelow took home the honor for The Hurt Locker. History has been made in recent years, with Jane Campion being the first woman to ever be nominated twice for Best Director and 2022 being the first time a woman won in consecutive years. 

With such strides in achievement by women as well as increased representation in Academy members and the Board of Governors, why is this awarding body being targeted for sexism?

Do Women Face Barriers to Nomination?

Variety released an article following the announcement of 2022's nominees, entitled “#OscarsSoMale: Academy Awards Shut Out Women for Best Director,” which took aim at the ceremony for “failing” to nominate any women for achievement in directing. 

However, one has to wonder, is any year where a particular demographic doesn’t earn recognition in the most prestigious honor in the film industry always inherently a failure? Is this failure always attributable to discrimination, or is it possible that they just didn’t make the best film that year?

In the article, Clayton Davis reports that the category is voted on by the 573 active members of the Directors Branch – a group of people who have clearly deemed women worthy of winning the award two years in a row. How, then, can the same Academy members be guilty of refusing to give women the acknowledgment they deserve?

While no woman is nominated for directing this year, one movie directed by a woman is nominated for Best Picture, something that is not unheard of, considering Best Picture is the only category that is voted on by all branches

This can explain the discrepancy between a film earning a nod for Best Picture and no such recognition for the director. Sarah Polley’s Women Talking is in the running for Best Picture, next to nine other films. By Davis’ own admission, a far lesser proportion of women direct films in the first place. Only 18% of directors in the industry are female, and while a variety of factors affect that statistic, one that can’t be discounted is personal choice. 

Many in the industry believe that there are fewer female directors because Hollywood is a boys club that prevents women from being offered the same opportunities. Perhaps this is true on some level that the historical domination of the industry by men has led to a lack of faith on the part of studios to take on female directors

However, women are receiving more incentives now than ever to get involved in the creative process, with inclusion directors overtly pushing for more women and people of color to be given priority in hiring processes as well as playing a larger role in The Academy itself.

We also can’t claim to know the reasons why a potential nominee was snubbed. Many acclaimed actors and directors spend their entire careers without earning a nomination despite public pressure. 

Leonardo Dicaprio was famously “memed” for several years ahead of the annual Oscar ceremony for being snubbed every year despite being one of the most acclaimed actors of all time. In 2015, he finally did take home that gold statue, but it was more than 20 years in the making.

Was the Academy out to get this white man? Of course not! The claim is preposterous, but the arguments made claiming that the Academy’s exclusion of women in certain categories is inherently sexist are just as baseless.

Why Quotas Based on Representation Are the Wrong Answer

Taylor Swift arrives at the 2012 Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 1, 2012 in Las Vegas, NV.
Photo Credit: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.

While you may expect that as a country’s social policies become more egalitarian, the differences between men and women will disappear. Paradoxically, the opposite is true. The most egalitarian countries in the world happen to produce the biggest disparities between men and women in terms of occupational choice and personality differences. 

This is known as the Gender Equality Paradox. Where women are given the most opportunity to pursue traditionally masculine careers like STEM, their likelihood of pursuing them decreases. Instead, they prefer caretaking roles like nursing. 

The biological differences between men and women are maximized when you remove sociocultural barriers, which is the opposite effect that many would predict. However, if you analyze the personality differences between men and women, men are higher on average in aggression and lower in agreeableness. 

Women are lower in aggression and higher in agreeableness, on average. Personality traits are great predictors of career interest, which explains why women predominantly gravitate toward caregiving roles, as their personalities predispose them to be more interested in people rather than things. 

For men, it’s the opposite – they’re more interested in things than people, hence why they gravitate toward things like engineering. On average, men and women aren’t that different from each other. If you like at the distribution between men and women along personality differences, they’re more alike than they are different. 

However, on the ends of the bell curve, which produce the greatest outliers, you’ll notice that the most aggressive people in a society are almost always men, and the most agreeable people are almost always women. 

Men aren’t overrepresented in prisons because of discrimination – it’s because the most violent and disagreeable people in a society tend to be men. We seem to have lost touch with this reality. 

As it applies to the film industry, is it not possible that women are less interested or driven to become filmmakers than they are to become entertainers? It takes a very specific personality type to be interested in directing people, one of which would be low agreeableness and neuroticism (negative emotion). 

Women happen to overwhelmingly be high in both. It’s hardly surprising that a career that places greater emphasis on ideas rather than people has attracted greater swaths of men than women. 

In terms of implementing quotas in the award nomination process itself, this is even more egregious. Where one can be argued to increase the equality of opportunity, this is flagrantly altering the equality of outcome. 

Establishing quotas to encourage women to gravitate more toward film direction may have some impact. Still, it likely won’t ever make the proportion of male and female directors anywhere close to 50/50, and that’s okay. There are fewer female directors, like there are fewer elementary school teachers, and no one thinks we need gender-based quotas to correct the latter.

Women are increasingly being recognized for their outstanding achievements in filmmaking but aren’t entitled to automatic nominations or wins. This, if anything, is insulting and reduces the high esteem of an Academy Award to a mere participation trophy. Women don’t need Academy Award hand-outs. They’ve been perfectly capable of earning them on their own merit thus far.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Film & Culture Writer | Website | + posts

Jaimee Marshall is a culture writer, avid movie buff, and political junkie. She spends the bulk of her time watching and critiquing films, writing political op-eds, and dabbling in philosophy. She has a Communication Studies degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she flirted with several different majors before deciding to pursue writing. As a result, she has a diverse educational background, having studied economics, political science, psychology, business admin, rhetoric, and debate.

At Wealth of Geeks, Jaimee places an emphasis on film and television analysis, ranking the best [and worst] in media so you can find more diamonds in the rough and waste less time on box-office duds. You can find her articles on politics and culture in Evie Magazine, Katie Couric Media, Lotus Eaters, and Her Campus. You can also find her find her episode of Popcorned Planet, where she analyzes the Johnny Depp & Amber Heard trial. She has written extensively about due process, free speech, and pop culture.