Skimming through my Facebook feed on Oscar night, I saw a link to The Nerdist’s interview with Mad Max: Fury Road director, George Miller. The first question and response caught my eye because they represent a profound shift in societal acceptance that matters to me.
Nerdist: Few science fiction films have been nominated for as many Oscars as Mad Max: Fury Road. How does it feel to receive this validation for not only your work but the entire genre?
George Miller: Unexpected. Because, as you said, it’s atypical. So it is a really nice thing. But I never expected that to be the case.
Then, Mad Max won six Oscars. Six amazing Oscars representing it as an artistic piece of film. It won six Oscars, but it lost the ones that mattered to me, a geeky woman who needed this win.
What The Nerdist missed is that it would not just have been an acceptance of a genre for Mad Max: Fury Road to win an Oscar. It would have been an acceptance of powerful, geek women. This isn’t just any science fiction story. It’s one (and this has been written about ad nauseum so I’ll just make the blanket comment and you can al use your Google Fu) that focuses on strong women taking control of their lives and their bodies.
Stepping away from the feminist allegory, an Oscar win for Best Director or Best Picture here would have meant that women in science fiction are accepted by the predominantly white, male power structure that the Oscar embody. In a year of #oscarssowhite, we have to take a moment to admit that it’s not like Fury Road was a bundle of intersectionality and that the diversity was focused predominantly on white women (with the exception of Toast played by Zoe Kravitz).
That being said and openly admitted, there would have still been a win underlying all of this for geeky women in particular. Science fiction is often seen as “low culture” and therefore, as a genre, has to fight to be recognized as culturally significant. Stories about women are also often viewed as nothing more than rom-com, relegated to the discount bin of cultural acceptance. A female-led sci-fi movie fits as a niche within a niche.
Most of us geeky women find ourselves as niches within niches. Society asks us to constantly prove ourselves. Are we female enough? Do we aspire to the career track? Are we good enough as moms? Are we the right kind of geek? Have we proven our cred as employee/parent/geek/whatever?
Had Fury Road won the Big Nom for Best Director or Best Movie, geeky women and our stories would have been seen as fully integrated into mainstream society and fully recognized as important. All of the beautiful artistic wins matter. Don’t take this the wrong way. They matter in terms of Fury Road being recognizes as the artistic masterpiece it is.
Once again science fiction is relegated to being seen by society as something “just outside” the norm. Something artistic, for sure. Something we will recognize as having cultural importance. It’s wonderful that it is considered an important cultural niche. The problem remains that the story lost. The story and its importance for women in geekdom are left unrecognized.
And here is why the Oscar for Fury Road matters. The Oscars are one of the social structures that we want to poo-poo for being superficial. We want to say that they don’t really matter because we are more enlightened than to think that movie awards are really integral to our society.
And yet. The Oscars represent an elevation of movies and acting from a popular culture into a higher culture. The six artistic Oscars are so very important to the recognition of science fiction as an art form Of high culture. The overall loss of The Big Nominations is so very important to the recognition of women’s stories in science fiction. Being overlooked for these once again relegates geeky women in society as niche group.
This is where seeing a female led science fiction accepted by the Oscars matters as a female geek. It should have been the moment where we saw ourselves – not just our female selves but our geeky selves – being celebrated by an organization that normally treats both of those selves as unworthy of celebration.
We are all Furiosa or Toast or Splendid or Capable or The Dag or Valkyrie. Seeing stories that represent us as both women and geeks means that we are accepted as geeky women. We are not simply poor love stories. We are not simply geeks. The Oscar for Fury Road would have represented societal acceptance everything about us wrapped up into one beautiful, compelling, amazing bundle.
Once again, however, the system admits we are tangentially important but not really enough to be fully recognized.