Where are Oscar's chicks?

Breaking news: The past year sucked for women in movies.

Published February 1, 2006 3:13PM (EST)

Rachel Abramowitz has written an excellent piece in the Los Angeles Times that begins with the biting observation: "You know it's a bad year for women when none of the best picture nominees even features one in a lead performance." That thought hadn't occurred to me, but it's true that both "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Munich" combined give us about 12 minutes of female screen time, and that "Brokeback Mountain," "Crash" and "Capote" offer, as Abramowitz writes, "women as ignored wives and gal pals."

Pointing out that female movie stars like Nicole Kidman and Cameron Diaz starred in bombs this year ("Bewitched" and "In Her Shoes"), Abramowitz notes that "in Hollywood, women seem to earn a double black mark for box office failure as opposed to male counterparts, such as Matthew McConaughey, who routinely flame out."

It has been popular recently to point out to anyone grumbling about gender inequity in Hollywood that women are now running several of the big studios. But Abramowitz writes that that doesn't exactly transform the place into some kind of feminist utopia. Far from it. "It's men who run the studio independent wings such as Focus, Fox Searchlight and Warner Independent, where more of the award-type films are made," she writes. She also cites the 2005 study by San Diego State University professor Martha Lauzen that revealed that only 7 percent of the 250 top-grossing films were made by female directors. Only three women have ever been nominated for a best-director Oscar; none has ever won.

It's also tough to get overseas funding for female-driven films, a co-head of William Morris Independent tells Abramowitz. James Schamus, the head of Focus Features, which this year released "Brokeback Mountain" and "Pride & Prejudice" and in 2003 "Lost in Translation" (which garnered Sofia Coppola one of those three directing nominations), says that in finding foreign financing "there is a genuine inequitable tilt toward male stardom."

Oh, and then there's the fact that if there are a handful of good parts for women out there, there are several handfuls of hugely talented performers who could capably play them. And that with every year and every line across their face, the chances those women have of getting those good parts dwindle.

Which brings me to the good news -- to my mind, anyway -- about the past year in film, meager though it may be. I was happily surprised yesterday morning to look at the list of nominees in the best-actress and best-supporting-actress categories and find scads of my favorite actresses. Four of them are over 40 (Felicity Huffman, Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener and Judi Dench) and the rest include some of the smartest and most talented younger women in film (Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Amy Adams in particular).

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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