Patricia Arquette's acceptance speeches were hands-down the highlights of the Golden Globes and Oscars. First, let's not forget what won her those moments: her stellar performance in BOYHOOD. She and writer/director Richard Linklater showed us a woman not just aging, but maturing. It was revolutionary.
Perfect too was Amy Poehler's quip at the Globes about the dearth of parts for women over 40: "Even Patricia Arquette had to get her role in Boyhood while in her 20's."
I admit I was disheartened when the Oscar noms came out and not one female writer or director was nominated. Then I noticed not one of the Best Picture nominees had a female protagonist. This is even true for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, based on Jane Hawking's memoir about her marriage to and divorce from Stephen. Written as her story, her husband ultimately steals the show (and wins the Oscar).
In a very telling piece by Dan Kois of Slate's BROWBEAT column, he points out that "In the past 20 years, only 21 movies that tell stories of women have been nominated for Best Picture, out of 125 nominated overall." That's just 6%.
Women are 51% of the population yet only 6% of the most acclaimed movies of the last 20 years are female-driven narratives. The number gets only slightly bigger, 12%, for the top 100 grossing films. (see study here)
No wonder there are so few female directors in Hollywood.
No wonder the first (and only) woman to win an Oscar for Best Director was Kathryn Bigelow for THE HURT LOCKER. Interestingly, the film was an internal character study, yet it had a war setting and a male protagonist. ZERO DARK THIRTY had a female lead and was a more ambitious film, yet it did not earn her a directing nomination.
Why do we discount female narratives as less important than male ones? In books and on TV we gobble up female stories left and right. At the Independent Spirit Awards, which Arquette also won, she thanks network TV for her livelihood, not studio or independent film. Is it a coincidence that books and TV allow us to consume these stories in the privacy of the home, whereas movies are created as public spectacles?
And yet The Hollywood Reporter headline, based on UCLA's second annual Hollywood Diversity Report, states: "Diverse Casts Deliver Higher Ratings: Bigger Box Office: Study." The article points out that the problem is not audiences so much as executives. When the people who make the hiring and greenlighting decisions in TV are 96% white and 71% male and in film are 94% white and 100% male, it's not surprising there's a lack of diversity in storytelling.
Back to Patricia. Over this award season she has again morphed before our eyes. She concluded her moving Golden Globes speech addressing her children: "My favorite role in this life has been being your mom." By her Oscar speech she's talking to us all: "To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights. It's time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!"
Tell it Patricia.