02/04/2015 09:26 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Filmmaker's Guide to an Oscar: Dress the Part, or Lose the Prize


Three days before Christmas this year, I opened the Times and I had to laugh. It was an incredulous laugh, more than anything else. In an article titled "Angelina Jolie's Fashion Campaign for an Oscar", NYT fashion critic Vanessa Friedman gives us a lengthy account of Angelina Jolie's fashion choices in the wake of the Academy Awards. For those of you who don't know, Angelina Jolie directed a film this year. A film based on a very brilliant book titled Unbroken, which was also written by a woman (Laura Hillenbrand, who also penned Seabiscuit.) It's no secret that it is very difficult for a woman--any woman--to secure a directing job in our beloved Hollywood (see the proof here.) Unbroken, in particular, was a big project by Hollywood standards, with big-time interest from big-name directors. Which made Jolie's involvement even more noteworthy. Whether you liked the film or not isn't the point (I for one, was so blown away by the book that I went into it knowing that nothing could compare). The point is this: how, in a world where it is immensely difficult for women to be taken seriously, and an actor-turned-director in particular, does an article written by a woman about what Angelina Jolie is wearing while "campaigning" for an Oscar even exist?

Friedman writes, "perhaps more meaningful (than the buzz around her film) is the way Ms. Jolie has been shaping her image in pursuit of her goal, edging it from look-at-me stardom to self-effacing behind-the-scenes-dom." I get it. I really do. It is Friedman's job to focus on these things. But do we see this kind of scrutiny surrounding men and their choice of suit? Suggest that what they wear is specifically chosen--and necessary--to help them find success? That their work cannot stand for itself? Friedman seems to suggest that a woman's wardrobe is essential to crafting an image in order to "sell" a product. In this approach, appearance becomes directly linked to value. Our value. "It may seem ridiculous to believe that drab colors and a lack of skin are required to convince the world of career commitment, but like it or not, in the eye of many beholders, playing into the stereotype is a shortcut to achieving the result." Friedman's words, once again.


Friedman is clearly suggesting that women should bow to stereotypes in order to convey our "seriousness of purpose." Not only that, but perhaps channel the masculine? "There is nothing like a man's white shirt, the building block of C.E.O.-style everywhere, to convey one's getting-down-to-business side." At every turn, Friedman presents notions of female professionalism that are both embarrassing and, frankly, outmoded.

And yes, fashion is cool. The designers behind our trends are cool. And talented. But should Angelina Jolie's wardrobe really have any bearing on her perceived talent and serious role as a director, or influence how her film is received by the Academy? Should we be writing articles that feed into this type of superficiality? Friedman doesn't simply state that fashion choices influence female career success: she suggests that women embrace it. Cue the crickets.


Are we talking about what Steve McQueen decided to wear in order to convince audiences that 12 Years A Slave deserved Best Picture? No. (And if so, someone please link me to it.) Would his film have won even if he had thrown caution to the wind and worn Birkenstocks to the awards ceremony? Why can't a film stand for a film, and not the face behind it? Let's face it. Jolie is a star. A big one. And, inevitably, attention will turn to her whether she is in front of the camera or behind it. But what about Redford, who has transitioned seamlessly from Hollywood heartthrob to talented producer and director? Does he need a "look" to convince the public that his films should be taken seriously?

It is disheartening that this type of article can exist in a world where less than 2 percent of directors are women. At the end of the day, is Friedman's opinion on the value of Jolie's wardrobe horrifyingly incendiary? No. Groundbreaking? Not really. But is there a more interesting topic to discuss during Angelina Jolie's Oscar quest than the "muted colors that bring out the skin tone"? Sure as hell yes.