The Academy diversity debate may have cast a shadow over this Sunday’s Oscars, but on Wednesday afternoon, designer Diane von Furstenberg and Universal Pictures chairwoman Donna Langley highlighted the advances women have made in puncturing Hollywood’s male-dominated hierarchy by celebrating the year’s female Oscar nominees. As Langley said during her welcome, it is just as important to talk about the progress Hollywood is making in its diversity conversations.
Guests at the event, which was hosted at von Furstenberg’s idyllic home in Coldwater Canyon, included previous Oscar winners like Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Arquette, and Marisa Tomei; this year’s acting nominees like Jennifer Jason Leigh; and a smattering of similarly impressive women who had flown in from around the globe to give their male peers competition in categories open to both genders, like Mad Max’s Lisa Thompson, from Australia, who is nominated for production design, and Ex Machina’s Sara Bennett, from England, who is nominated for visual effects.
After a lovely lunch, eaten picnic-style on von Furstenberg’s front lawn, the host called her guests into her expansive living room to recognize each of the year’s female Oscar nominees, including Andrea Berloff (best original screenplay, Straight Outta Compton), Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey (film editing, Star Wars), Liz Garbus (best documentary feature, What Happened, Miss Simone?), Kristie Macosko Krieger (best picture, Bridge of Spies), and Mary Parent (best picture, The Revenant).
By the designer’s calculations, there are 11 more female nominees this year than there were last year, but the host told her guests that the numbers still aren’t satisfactory. “Clearly we have a lot of work to do in getting more women’s stories on-screen and more women directors and screenwriters and set designers. The first thing that we can do to empower more women, though, is to believe in ourselves and make it happen.”
As an example of how ingrained gender bias is in our culture, von Furstenberg shared one of her own recent faux pas, made in spite of the fact that she is a lifelong feminist.
“It’s very strange how, even if you are a feminist, you can be prejudiced. A few weeks ago I was told I had to have a small surgery, and my doctor introduced me to this surgeon, and it was a woman. And the first thing I said was, ‘Oh, it’s a woman?’ I couldn’t believe that I actually said that! I was so ashamed, but now I’m using it a lot as an example for others.”
She continued, “All we have to do is be better women so that there are more stories about women, more stories written by women.” Von Furstenberg also gave her co-host an assignment: motioning to Langley, who was responsible for Universal Pictures’ $6.7 billion box-office year in 2015, von Furstenberg added, “And, Donna, make sure that your very big studio gives more women green lights.”
Throughout von Furstenberg’s speech, the designer was interrupted periodically by yelps from her Jack Russell terrier, Dina. Explaining her dog’s enthusiasm for certain remarks, von Furstenberg deadpanned, “She’s a female, too.”
Julie Miller is a Senior Hollywood writer for Vanity Fair‘s website. juliewmiller