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This Year’s Oscar Nominees Represent the Decline of Female Leads in 2014

This year’s Oscars have been flooded with much criticism, to say the least. Much of the backlash towards this year’s Academy Awards nominees are due to the lack of racial diversity. Civil rights biopic “Selma” made news when it was surprisingly snubbed by the 87th Academy Awards. Though Selma is up for Best Picture, the film’s diverse cast was not recognized by the prestige film award ceremony. Unsurprisingly, the lack of diversity became a big issue, especially with the recent release of a Vanity Fair magazine cover featuring Oscar nominees, which was deemed by many as too “white washed.”

Racial diversity isn’t the only thing lacking from this year’s Oscars, but also women, who are not represented as fairly well as we assumed they would be. Though the Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominees consist of respected talent from the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore, a recent study from the San Diego State University Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reported only 12 percent of protagonists in the 100 domestic-grossing films in 2014 were made up of female lead characters.

This might come as a surprise for you (as it definitely did for me), especially with the recent roundup of girl power movies including “Wild” and “Still Alice” (both Oscar nominated), but apparently there really wasn’t that much female representation in film in 2014. In fact, female lead characters are at its lowest since 2002, a startlingly figure especially since franchises such as “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” seemed like a game changer for women in film.

Also according to the study, most female actresses were much younger than their counterparts, and took up more domestic roles such as mother or wife.  The representation of women in roles other than traditional types fell flat in 2014, and the Oscars is a representation of this.

Though, as previously mentioned, films such as “Wild” and “Still Alice” followed lead female characters overcoming obstacles, these characters were still within the confinements of domesticity, such as “Wild’s” Cheryl who overcomes the guilt of a marriage she feels she ruined, and “Still Alice’s” Dr. Alice Howland who tries to balance marriage, motherhood and early-onset  Alzheimer’s disease.

Though both characters are, arguably, two of the strongest female leads to have led this year’s Oscars, they both are still shaped by the expectations of marriage and motherhood. Other Oscar-nominated performances including Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”, Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”, and Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night” also feature strong female characters navigating through the overwhelming journeys of marriage and motherhood. Pike’s “Gone Girl” is one of the few Oscar-nominated characters that challenge the roles of wife and mother, however Pike’s obsessive manipulative character takes away from the original intent, and gives the audience a character driven by jealousy and hate.

Emma Stone’s Sam in “Birdman” (up for Best Supporting Actress) is one of the few female characters that is not constrained by the duties of marriage or motherhood. Though her character is rebellious and independent, Sam is still bound by the role of daughter, looking after her father as he goes through a mid-life crisis, and the stress of feeling left out in this generation of technology.

What is possibly the most unfortunate though, is that neither “Two Days, One Night”, “Still Alice” nor “Wild” are nominated for Best Picture. Though the “Theory of Everything” is nominated for the top gold, the film’s plot largely revolves around Stephen Hawking’s accomplishments. Jones’ character Jane Hawking takes much of the credit for Hawking’s success; however, “The Theory of Everything” is really a man’s story. Jane is made out to simply be the strong woman fulfilling her duties as a wife.

This year’s nominees for Best Picture revolve mostly around the story of men. “The Imitation Game”, “Whiplash”, “The Foxcatcher”, “American Sniper”, “Boyhood”, “Selma”, “The Theory of Everything” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, follow the the stories and accomplishments of men. This year truly was the battle of the best “true stories” with biopic after biopic involving some of the world’s most honorable or interesting individuals, however, all of these stories are male driven, so where are the true stories about women?

“The Imitation Game”, “Boyhood” and “The Theory of Everything,” for example, are centered on the lives and struggles of men. “Boyhood” is one of the few Best Picture films that isn’t based on a true story, but when watching “Boyhood,” along with “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything,” I couldn’t help but be more intrigued by their supporting female leads than the male protagonists.

Patricia Arquette who portrayed the mother in “Boyhood,” is one of the boldest of any female characters this year, however, her character’s struggles is overshadowed by her son’s coming-of-age journey. The same applies to “The Imitation Game”; though Alan Turing is by far the best representation for the LGBT community, I still couldn’t help but want to learn more about the story behind his colleague and brief fiancé Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). Hardly is there ever a film that features a female cryptanalyst, who largely contributed to the end of World War II. As a viewer, I was left with the desire to find out more about Clarke, Jane Hawking and Martin Luther King’s wife Coretta Scott King, but as dismal as it may sound, Hollywood let me, and many women, down yet again.

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Written by Natalie Rivera

Managing Editor Natalie Rivera is a proud feminist and freelance writer who enjoys writing anything pop culture-oriented, as long as it's women-positive. She earned her journalism degree in 2013 and has since then written for a variety of trending websites. Her heroes consist of David Bowie and Annie Clark, who are changing the way the world perceives sexual and gender fluidity. Follow her at @ByNatalieRivera.

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