My father, the actor Russ Tamblyn, has been a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences since the early ’90s, a privilege that allows him to vote for the Academy Awards every year. He takes his membership and voting very seriously and always attends as many Academy screenings as he can, taking diligent notes on the films he saw and loved and casting his vote with enormous pride. Growing up in Los Angeles, I went to many of those screenings with him at the legendary Samuel Goldwyn Theater, with its plush blood-red velvet seats and massive glowing screen bookended by two towering gold Oscar statues. But when I looked around at the Academy audience, I rarely ever saw any members who were women, and I almost never saw members who were women of color, save for a rare icon like Nancy Kwan, who, up until this year’s Crazy Rich Asians, was one of the very few Asian-American actresses to star in a major Hollywood movie since her film debut in 1960. What I saw in the Academy’s membership were other white men like my father, so I grew up believing that this is where I should expect to see myself in the pantheons of patriarchal clubs: always as a guest of an old guard, never as a gerent alongside her own peers.
So it was a complete surprise when last year, in 2018, I was finally invited to become a voting member of AMPAS myself, even though I’ve worked for more than two decades in film and television as an actress, director, and screenplay writer. The Academy has made strides to bring more women into its voting body in the last few years, but this year it’s apparent that when it comes to who is nominated there is still a long way to go. On Tuesday, the announcement of the 91st Oscar nominations entirely left out women’s cinematic contributions to some of its top categories, including Best Director, Achievement in Editing, Achievement in Cinematography, and Achievement in Music, among other categories. That this continues to happen every year, regardless of AMPAS’s growing membership inclusion, is alarming, but not surprising.
Even though women in Hollywood are finally being told that we can have a seat at the artistic table, we’re also being told that doesn’t necessarily mean the table believes our art belongs there. This is because of a long-term cycle of trickle-down sexism that has denied value to women and their creative work from the top to the bottom; a cycle of thinking that sees films by women as outrightly unsuccessful, because most films by women do not win awards, because most films by women are not marketable, because most stories by women are not valued as relatable, because most green lights are given to women’s films as gendered charity; as a worthwhile risk, never a worthwhile investment. There were so many worthy films by women that deserved to be nominated this year — including Chloé Zhao’s The Rider and Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here — and these omissions en masse seem less like singular snubs and more like a form of continued erasure; first we were just guests in the room, now we are not taken seriously behind those closed doors.
It was an honor and privilege to cast my first ever vote for the Academy Awards this year, but I know it’s not enough for me to show I care about the stories created, edited, scored, and produced by women filmmakers just by voting for them for an award show, no matter how prestigious it is. We need more of these voices, along with those of the disabled and LGBTQIA communities, sitting at that exclusive table, reshaping the idea of what kind of art is allowed to become successful in the first place. And the men in the Academy, like my father, need to reflect on how they have come to value art by women. My male peers in the AMPAS have to start seeing women as true contenders and our work has to be valued by them as much as they value each other’s. Because we’re not just guests in that old-guard room anymore. Those rooms must no longer exist. And what we must build next has to be built together, equally, across industries and job titles. A system that will allow all of our voices to prosper and succeed.
Amber Tamblyn is an actress and writer. Her book Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution is coming out on March 5.