In which I am struck by my own obliviousness

Today over on Twitter, someone in my feed (@alxhuls) had thrown out a request: what are some good film scores for background music while working? He retweeted a response that came in to him (from user @Jim_Lochner) that mentioned scores by Rachel Portman. The two thoughts that immediately went through my head: hmm, have I heard of Rachel Portman? and OHMYGOD have I ever heard of ANY female film composers??

Obviously there are women working as film composers out there. And in my own movie geekdom, I don’t focus on that aspect of film too much—except for the Home Alone score on CD I got as a gift last Christmas (my friends know me well), I haven’t owned a film score since I perma-borrowed my mom’s cassette of Somewhere in Time when I was a moody 14-year-old. I’m not sure why this has never been a bigger part of my film appreciation; certainly I notice bad music, but when the music is good it seems to just fuse with all of the elements and cease to be a concern for individual attention from me. But, despite my tendency to gloss over this aspect of a film, I watch awards shows. I see the composers who do the big films, who get the recognition and the nominations. I know that it’s an important part of the Hollywood machine.

So why have I never noticed the lack of women in the group?

I’m a feminist and a movie fan. These are my two Big Things. I talk about this stuff all the time. I write a column about films directed and written by women! I frequently rant about the abysmal ratios of male to female characters in film! But I had literally never thought about the fact that the film composers getting showered with accolades at the Oscars every year are almost exclusively men.

Written by someone else, someone with a better knowledge of film scores in general, this post could easily be one highlighting all of the great work that I am sure is being done by women, lamenting the lack of attention and the fact that the big jobs consistently go to the same few men. I would love to read such an article. But this post, instead, is an opportunity for me to remind everyone, including myself, that sometimes a lack of diversity is not because of malicious intent, but because of just not noticing. This is even more dangerous, in the grand scheme of things. Things that are “the norm” can blur into seeming natural. Louder discussions—such as about the position of women executives and writers and directors, that I am so fond of talking about—can keep other issues from surfacing. Movie-loving feminists can watch the Oscars religiously and not give a thought to the fact that it’s been eleven years since a woman (yes, Rachel Portman, for Chocolat) was nominated for Best Original Score. If I didn’t notice this while presented with it right before my eyes, is someone (who is probably a man) in the market to hire one individual composer for one individual film likely to give it much thought?

Noticing exclusion, noticing a lack of diversity—it takes work. It takes work because even the most aware of us are inundated with instances of the opposite in a manner that indicates it’s no big deal. That shit gets in your head, whether you want it to or not. I recently had a guy tell me I had “blown his mind” by pointing out that every single one of his favorite books had a male author. That’s exactly how I felt after reading those tweets today. That’s what we’re working with.

Let’s all try to keep it in mind.



4 Responses to “In which I am struck by my own obliviousness”

  1. 1 Emily January 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Great post, Brandi! I’m even a bit of a music nerd, but still I had not noticed this at all. Wow.

  2. 4 Shannon January 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I love Rachel Portman (!) and actually listen to the Chocolate soundtrack while writing. I do get really excited when i see that she has done the score for a new movie.

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Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

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