The Blatant Misogyny of the 2021 Oscars

Max Abramson '24, Guest Writer

There is a scene in Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” where Cassie, the main character (played by Carey Mulligan), gets catcalled by a group of construction workers. In response, however, Cassie just turns and glares. She glares at them for a long time…a very long time. Such a long time that the men begin to get embarrassed. It is soon—once they start to curse her out—that the truth becomes unquestionably obvious: the men are ashamed.

“Promising Young Woman”, Fennell—its writer and director—and Mulligan were all nominated for numerous awards at the recent 93rd Annual Academy Awards. The Oscars, as we know them, represent the best of the best of this past year’s cinema, putting on display the people we’ve come to love and respect.

But the respect was certainly not there that night. At least, I didn’t think so.

One of the first awards that was presented was Best Original Screenplay, one that “Promising Young Woman” was up for. In preemptively introducing the nominees, Fennell was complimented vehemently (and deservedly so) for her movie. Yet, the last thing that is said to Fennell is “girl…you earned the title of that film.” This comment immediately struck me as odd. The title of the movie is meant to be ironically misogynistic because the film itself is gutturally real, frustrating, and empowering…so why would they refer to Fennell using the title she came up with ironically? Who wrote this? Did they even watch the movie?

Thank goodness she won the award.

But then they did it again. In introducing Carey Mulligan for Best Actress, they said to her, “you knew the risk you were taking with ‘Promising Young Woman.’ Congratulations on a performance that was painful, witty, and powerful.” And again I was struck. The compliment seemed so passive-aggressively written, so oddly backhanded.

I told myself to calm down. Maybe I was just reading into it too much.

It is the general consensus that the most important award of the Oscars is Best Picture. But, for some strange reason, this year they decided not to present that award last. It seems obvious that you should save “the most important award” for the end, to get the most people to keep watching. That’s what the Oscars did in 2017 when they mixed up La La Land and Moonlight. They did it again in 2018 and 2019, despite their gaffe. They even did it last year, too. According to an article from IndieWire, “the last time the Best Picture Oscar was not handed out in the final moments of the ceremony was in 1972.” So, why change it this year? I have no idea, and neither, it seems, does anybody else. More important question, though: which award do you think they saved for last this time?

It was Best Actor. They saved Best Actor for last.

Not Best Actress or Best Picture. Best Actor. Why would you change it, Oscars? I don’t understand. By your own logic, the most important award is saved for last. So why was it Best Actor?

The final straw was when, as with the rest of the Best Picture nominees, the Academy showcased a scene from “Promising Young Woman”. In a movie with an extremely prominent focus on female empowerment in the face of devastating trauma, one that highlights the systemic and social injustices that women have to face on a daily basis—a film containing countless inspiring as well as powerful female-led and female-dominating scenes—what do you think is the one that they decided to show? If you guessed the scene where the main male character is introduced into the story, then you’d be right. Because apparently, the scene that the Oscars wanted everybody to see over all of the others in a film about women is the one where a man makes his debut.

The Oscars have historically (and quite famously) had extreme issues with both equality and diversity. But I found this horrific display of misogyny absolutely astonishing…revolting, even. It felt like such a blatant slap in the face. Chloé Zhao may have become the second woman and first woman of color to win Best Director, deservedly making history, but that does not excuse what happened during the rest of the night. And one of the most discouraging parts about it is that most people—because of the Academy’s history—aren’t even surprised.

Expectations aside, though, this still matters. It matters because of respect, because of decency and equality. It matters because it has to, because it shows that misogyny is rooted so deeply within our society that even those who we think of as “elite” think that they can get away with perpetuating it. And to not care is to let it win. The fact that it is through arguably one of the most famous and iconic annual television events that they flaunt their prejudice in front of us means that we must hold them responsible. We must say something.

The Oscars this year seemed to me to be rude, blatantly misogynistic, and outright disrespectful to women. Just as Cassie glared at the construction workers who catcalled her, we have a moral obligation to make The Oscars understand, to make them feel ashamed.

So maybe it’s time we “glare.” I know that’s what I’ll be doing. And I hope that you will do the same.

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