Public Media Arts Hub

How the 2024 Oscars spotlight progress and continued struggles for women in film


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Tonight's 96 Academy Awards will honor the most acclaimed films of 2023. A year that could be considered a milestone for women in film, women filmmakers that are record in the best picture category including Greta Gerwig's Barbie, which is the highest grossing film ever directed by a woman.

But the past year punctuated by months of strikes and Hollywood also highlighted the ongoing struggles in diversity, equal pay and equal opportunities for women. Rebecca Sun is senior editor of Diversity and Inclusion for the Hollywood Reporter.

Rebecca this year a record breaking three films directed by women are nominated for Best Picture, is this a sign of progress or an outlier?

Rebecca Sun, The Hollywood Reporter: I think it's a sign of progress but with a huge caveat. It is a sign of progress that people are recognizing movies directed by women as worthy of Best Picture nominations. However, it must be noted that only one of those woman was nominated herself for Best Director.

And so that's where the big caveat comes in. People are loving the overall result and not really giving credit to the person who is most responsible for that success.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Speaking of these directors last year, no female directors were nominated for Best Director. This year, we have one Justine Triet for directing Anatomy of a Fall. What does that say about the recognition of women in major roles in Hollywood?

Rebecca Sun: I think what that says is that we have not yet reached a point of equilibrium or status quo, you're still dependent on that specific crop of films year to year, you're still dependent on a number of factors. We're not at a point where just like with men, you can say, wow, this year, you know, four or five men were nominated for director, you don't say things like that, because it's sort of a given. We're still seeing that this is vastly the exception and not the rule.

Laura Barron-Lopez: A recent report out of UCLA found that films with diverse cast received the highest median global box office earnings across last year's top films, and audiences of color flocked to opening weekends for 14 out of the top 20 films is Hollywood responding to this in any way?

Rebecca Sun: Not in a way that is commensurate to what we're seeing. It's been known for years and years, that movie going audiences. In other words, the American population is growing more racially diverse.

And yet, I do think that conventional wisdom in Hollywood, the decisions made by those who are at the very top, they still are thinking of white audiences as sort of the norm, and that anything that appeals to everybody else as niche and so whenever they make a film that's quote, unquote, targeted towards quote unquote, diverse audiences, that is seen as a niche film and not a wide four quadrant release. So there is still quite a ways to go despite what the audiences are saying.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Films like Barbie and The Little Mermaid, which both had female leads were among the top 10 highest grossing films last year. But does that mean that that type of success actually translates into more opportunities for women?

Rebecca Sun: I think it has the potential to translate but only if you're taking the correct take away messages. For example, when Barbie hit huge on opening weekend, there were a few think pieces initially that said, wow, you know, this means that Hollywood should make more movies about toys, not more movies that are driven by and about women.

And so it really, really does depend on, you know, what you believe is the moral of the story. I mean, I think with Barbie and The Little Mermaid, are you just saying that like, oh, I guess women are going to the movies now? Or are you saying I guess everybody likes seeing movies about female characters? So those are two completely different takeaway statements.

Laura Barron-Lopez: What about unequal pay? Actress Taraji P. Henson, who's in the Oscar nominated film, The Color Purple spoke out during the film's press tour about how women and especially black women are treated in Hollywood and essentially, in Hollywood, women are paid fractions of what their male counterparts make. How pervasive is that problem?

Rebecca Sun: That problem is pervasive in Hollywood as it is in every other industry in this society. You know, I think that it's the only difference is that the entertainment industry is a lot more visible. But still, what Taraji P. Henson is talking about she's not comparing her salary to that of teachers who are chronically underpaid and part of a different conversation.

She's talking about her salary, compared to men who have had a commensurate level of experience and a commensurate level of accomplishment in the industry. When you look at that the numbers do not lie. Women in Hollywood including famous women, in Hollywood are still underpaid compared to men and that is exacerbated even further when you're talking about women of color before.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Before we let you go were there any films this year directed by women produced by women or that had female leads that went under the radar but that are worth watching?

Rebecca Sun: This is a tricky one because it's not exactly completely under the radar. Celine Song's Past Lives. She's a first time filmmaker. She has an extensive playwriting background. It's just a subtle piece of work. It's really beautiful. It's a small quiet movie. It has been nominated for Best Picture, it might take a while for people to discover and so I hope they do sooner than later.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Rebecca Sun of The Hollywood Reporter, thank you for your time.

Rebecca Sun: Thank you so much.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.