The first woman in 23 years took home an Oscar for Best Original Score. Here's why it matters.

When Hildur Gudnadottir walked up to the stage at the Oscars last night to receive her award for Best Original Score, I squealed. Then I texted my 19-year-old daughter, "A female composer won Best Score for 'Joker'!!!"


My daughter is a music composition major with ambitions to become a film composer. I knew how huge last night's award was because when we researched that career choice, we discovered how unbelievably male-dominated the film scoring industry is.

RELATED: Marvel just hired its first female film composer. Here's why that's a big deal.

Most people with a keen interest in movies can name a few film composers off the top of their heads—John Williams, Hanz Zimmer, Howard Shore, etc. But very few can name even one female film scorer, or even recognize one by name. When my daughter and I watched the film scoring industry documentary, Score, we were dismayed to find that of the nearly 50 composers interviewed, just two were women.

But sadly, that ratio lines up pretty closely with the actual statistics. A report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film shows that of the top 250 domestic box office films of 2018, 94 percent were scored by men. In addition, a 2018 University of Southern California study found that of the top 1,100 fictional films from 2007 to 2017, male composers were included in credits 1,200 times—and female composers just 16.

Such drastic underrepresentation can't possibly be due to a lack of interest in the field, since there are plenty of women in other musical careers. There's nothing inherently gendered about music, so it's not about talent or ability, either. As Captain Marvel composer Pinar Toprak said in an interview, "Music, and art in general, it's genderless because emotions are genderless."

However, history has not seen music as genderless. Some of this underrepresentation may be due to our automatic connection between orchestral music and male composers, thanks in large part to a long history of female composers being unable to have their work heard. (One example: Felix Mendelssohn's sister, Fanny, was every bit his musical equal, yet she was discouraged from publishing her compositions. When she finally did get her work published, it was under her brother's name. Mozart's sister was also a child musical prodigy, her talents largely overlooked by society and history.)

Perhaps there are also some self-perpetuating assumptions in the industry. The most famous and successful composers have always been men (notably, almost exclusively white men), therefore men may automatically be seen as the most able composers. As in many male-dominated industries, male domination itself becomes a defining factor of the field without even trying. Instead of a "glass ceiling," female composers face a "sound barrier" purely because of their gender—one that, despite some chipping away, seems very hard to break.

That's why this Oscar win by Gudnadottir—as well as her other wins, such as being the first solo female composer to win a Golden Globe for Best Score—is a big deal. That's why Pinar Toprak being the first woman to score a Marvel film was a big deal. That's why my daughter seeing such examples of both excellence and recognition is a big deal.

RELATED: She's the first woman to land this gig at ESPN. Here's how she did it.

As Gudnadottir said her speech, "To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters, who hear the music bubbling within, please speak up. We need to hear your voices."

This win will help smooth the way for aspiring female composers like my daughter to have their voices heard.

Check out Gudnadottir's acceptance speech:

www.youtube.com

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less