Female Directors Were Frozen Out of This Year’s Oscars, so They’re Stealing the Broadcast’s Ads

A stunt to break into the awards show from agency Mojo Supermarket

(L-R) Queen and Slim, Hustlers and Little Women were some of the films frozen out of the Best Director category.
(L-R) Queen and Slim, Hustlers and Little Women were some of the films frozen out of the Best Director category. Universal Pictures, MTV International, Sony Pictures Entertainment
Headshot of Mary Emily O

On Sunday, the Academy Awards will take place for the 92nd time. And a man will win Best Director, because only men were nominated this year in a time-honored tradition that has resulted in only five Oscar nominations ever for female directors. The male-dominated category was the subject of an Issa Rae joke gone viral when the Insecure creator quipped “congratulations to those men” during an official Oscar noms announcement video.

Mojo Supermarket stepped in with a biting campaign created to remind movie fans of all the talent being left out of the ceremony. The agency’s GiveHerABreak campaign uses an online Oscar-viewing portal that replaces commercials, instead filling the breaks with trailers for over a dozen of the buzzworthy and blockbuster films directed by women last year.

The tagline for the campaign reads: “You stole our Oscars. So we stole your ads.”

The potential to impact the market is very real; women make up about 80% of consumer purchases and according to one Feb. 2019 study are twice more likely to watch the Academy Awards than men are.

Considering that women drive both ratings and the consumer market reach of the event, it’s a wonder that critically acclaimed films like Booksmart (director: Olivia Wilde), Queen and Slim (Melina Matsoukas), Little Women (Greta Gerwig), The Farewell (Lulu Wang) and box office hit Hustlers (Lorena Scarfaria) didn’t make the cut for the directory category.  In Gerwig’s case, it’s especially surprising since Little Women is in the running for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and other categories. Overall, this year’s Academy Award nominations feature very few people of color as well, leading to the sense that 2020 is a regression from the gradual progress of diversity initiated by campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite and Time’s Up.

GiveHerABreak’s portal—a “watch live” button on its website—is a middle finger to Academy voters that collectively snubbed female directors, while allowing viewers to still tune in to the ceremony in a perfectly legal way. You still have to enter ABC or cable credentials to watch but when the broadcast breaks for ads, your screen will populate with YouTube trailers for a lengthy list of women-directed films—none of which were nominated for Best Director.

A screen-capture of Instagram stories from the GiveHerABreak profile.
Mojo Supermarket

“We currently have a list of 200 films made in the last year that would’ve been eligible for Best Director nominations,” Mojo Supermarket senior creative Emily Berger told Adweek.

The agency isn’t working in a vacuum, but partnered with groups that Berger said know this space better.

“The organization Film Fatales was a huge help to us in helping compile our thorough list of films and helped support the campaign,” said Berger. “Both Women In Film and Free The Bid have also been a huge help. Alma Har’el, one of our favorite snubbed directors, actually helped us get the word out. And we’re working with a network of female directors on helping us whittle down the list and make sure we recognize great talent.”

Mojo Supermarket founder and former Droga5 Creative Director Mo Said noted that the project is a step in a new direction for an agency that usually works with brands.

“Even though we’d usually be making the ads during the Oscars, this issue is much bigger than us,” Said, whose agency staff makeup is 50 percent women and 50% immigrant, said in a press release Friday. “There’s millions of women who create incredible films, but just don’t get the same break by this misogynistic industry. We wanted to fix that.”

Not only is the agency fixing the lack of visibility the Oscars are giving women directors, but it’s also started a heated conversation online through the #GiveHerABreak hashtag. On Friday, film industry professionals, gender equality advocates, and critics highlighted the project on social media. 

“This Sunday, millions of people across the country will finally have a choice—watch the movies a select group handpicked for you. Or actually watch the best films of the year. We’ve never had that choice before” said Said.

Berger added that while the GiveHerABreak technology was created just for the Oscars, it may not be just a one-shot project.

“As we all know, women have an incredibly hard time in the creative industry (as I’m sure any woman in the film or advertising industry will tell you first-hand),” said Berger. “So whenever we see an opportunity, the GiveHerABreak campaign can continue to create new ways to bring awareness and propose solutions to the problem.”

The Academy so far has not responded to the campaign.

@MaryEmilyOHara maryemily.ohara@adweek.com Mary Emily O'Hara is a diversity and inclusion reporter. They specialize in covering LGBTQ+ issues and other underrepresented communities.