Over at Women and Hollywood, Melissa Silverstein responds to the exclusion of movies by female directors from the main competition at Cannes with a call for more transparency about the process by which films make the cut. I’m of two minds about this.
I think there are certain kinds of transparency that are valuable. When the National Magazine Awards came out this year and people were dismayed, I think the American Society of Magazine Editors did themselves a favor when they gave journalists some insights into the makeup of the pools that produced the nominations. Being transparent ended up dispelling the sense that a secret cabal of dude editors had systematically shut women out of the running and refocused the conversation on thornier questions like the differences between magazines aimed at men and women, or how to improve the pool of women who are writing magazine features on things that aren’t women’s issues. I’m all for exposing cabals if they exist, but they shouldn’t become a distraction from things that are much harder to address.
But there’s no question that some kinds of transparency can become a rabbit hole. If festivals or awards start explaining why they accept or reject every single movie or piece, they’re not likely to satisfy anyone. The Pulitzer’s one-line citations of nominees and eventual winners are a nice bit of economy, but explanations like that open the door to lengthy justifications of what got in and what didn’t, offered up to folks who want to champion a movie, or a show, or a piece that resonates with them. Ultimately, nominations and awards are always going to be products of their judging pools, rather than of popular votes, and opinions in those pools will always be subjective and brokered.
Better to know who the judges are than to try to get reasoning for their preferences out of them. It might even be interesting to see judges write statements about their preferences and the things that get them excited, and for competitions to try to put together balanced pools based on those as well. It’s not like putting Kathryn Bigelow on your jury will tilt it towards sympathy for carefully observed domestic stories about the inner lives of women. The basic facts and figures on who makes up judging pools is a good form of transparency that should be standard, along with the numbers on whose represented in initial submissions. But transparency is only the start: the decisions people make much earlier back in their careers are much murkier to fathom, and equally important.