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There Was a Historic Moment for Women at the Oscars Thanks to … Joker?

Hildur Guðnadóttir took home gold.

THE OSCARS¨ - The 92nd Oscars¨ broadcasts live on Sunday, Feb. 9,2020 at the Dolby Theatre¨ at Hollywood & Highland Center¨ in Hollywood and will be televised live on The ABC Television Network at 8:00 p.m. EST/5:00 p.m. PST. (ABC/ARTURO HOLMES) HILDUR GUONADOTTIR

image: Arturo Holmes/ABC

Despite the Academy’s best efforts in the nominations process to keep things male and white-dominated, we ended up with a crop of diverse and historic winners. The first Oscar winner of Maori descent! The first non-English film to win Best Picture! The first winner to weirdly mention cow insemination in a speech? But we also saw an important and lovely win for women from an unexpected place when Hildur Guðnadóttir won Best Original Score for her work on Joker.  While recognition of female-created works was sorely lacking elsewhere, Guðnadóttir’s win was a step forward in her category.

Guðnadóttir is only the third woman to win an Academy Award for score, and technically she is the first to win for “Best Original Score.” The previous female winners were Rachel Portman for Emma in 1996, and Anne Dudley for The Full Monty in 1997. Portman and Dudley both won in “Best Comedic Score” during a brief, weird period where the dramatic and comedic categories were separated after Disney films took home the prize for half a decade.

Why is was this a significant moment? Not just because it’s been 23 years since a woman has won in this category, but because of the reasons why women have such a hard time in this field. Women in classic music face an incredible amount of sexism, and it’s even worse for conductors and composers. I spent my college years in the classical music world and saw firsthand how entrenched the attitude is that women at the podium or writing their own music is the equivalent of a sideshow curiosity.

Composing for film is one of the few places that classical musicians and composers can get their work heard and recognized outside of the concert hall, and so it’s a huge boost and inspiration for women in music around the world and it’s something we should absolutely celebrate. Guðnadóttir is having an amazing year too, having also composed the score for HBO’s Chernobyl.

I feel like this was the result the Academy and Oscar producers were hoping for (who knows, maybe they peaked at the result before the ceremony) because everything leading up to it in the ceremony was a somewhat awkward attempt to elevate and celebrate women. The award was presented by a powerhouse team of female presenters: Brie Larson, Gal Gadot and Sigourney Weaver, who introduced the first woman ever to conduct the Academy Orchestra for the scroll medley: Eímear Noone.

I would have preferred if Noone, an Irish conductor and composer had been allowed to conduct the entire ceremony, but it was still awesome to see a woman with the baton (and an amazing coat!) before another woman took home the prize.

Guðnadóttir’s speech was grateful and gracious and her final words did more to inspire than the Academy’s token efforts to prove they think women are cool and should exist. “To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters, who hear the music bubbling within: please, speak up, we need to year your voices.”

Thanks to this win, those girls may feel a little braver when they do speak up. Congratulations, Hildur.

(via: The Hollywood Reporter)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.