Oscar Watch: The Sci and Tech Awards are a Man’s World

March 7, 2010 at 11:29 pm (Uncategorized)

On a night that Kathryn Bigelow made Oscar history by becoming the first woman to win an award for Best Director, another moment on the telecast made clear how far women still have to go in Hollywood.

Partway through the packed show, actress Elizabeth Banks highlighted the Academy’s Scientific & Technical Awards, which she had presented in a separate ceremony on February 20. According to the Academy, the awards honor “the men, women and companies whose discoveries and innovations have contributed in significant, outstanding and lasting ways to motion pictures.”

Just one problem: there were no women. As the group photo scrolled across the big screen, it was tux after tux, bow tie after bow tie. Forty five men.

Interestingly, the Sci-Tech awards are always presented by beautiful young actresses—Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson and Kate Hudson are among the recent hosts. Last year, Biel presented to all men. In 2008, Alba honored a lone woman, Julia Pakalns, for her work (along with three men) on the Maya Fluid Effects system, which helps digital artists accurately animate liquids and gases.

Though I can’t tell you what awards like “advancing the technique of ambient occlusion rendering” mean, I can say that all of these technological advancements are changing the way movies are made, and that both men and women should be a part of that filmmaking future.

Clearly, the gender divide in these awards is only a symptom of a systematic failure to engage and encourage women in science and technology—a failure that extends far beyond the film industry. Last week, I attended the California Museum’s celebration of Women’s History Month, which included a discussion with astronaut Sally Ride, who in 1983 became the first woman to go to space. During the panel, she mentioned that when she first went to work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, of the 4,000 scientists and engineers employed there, only 4 were women. And when the crew for her historic space flight was announced, at the press conference a reporter fromTIME magazine asked if she cried when things went wrong in the simulator.

The vital question is how to overcome centuries of social, cultural and institutional biases that make it difficult for women to enter and excel in scientific and technical fields. Though it’s an enormous issue, institutes like Georgia Tech’s Center for the Study of Women, Science and Technology and initiatives at MITUSC and many other colleges are a welcome sign of the need for and commitment to change.

Hopefully not too long from now, the only tears will come during award acceptance speeches.

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