Last night Hildur Guðnadóttir won the Oscar for her score to The Joker completing here awards sweep. Clearly this was her year with Emmy, Grammy and World Soundtrack Awards wins for Chernobyl and a whole host of awards including a BAFTA, Critic’s Choice & Golden Globe in addition to her Oscar for Joker. This is a historic achievement for a woman in the entertainment industry. It’s remarkable. She’s been honing her craft working professionally as a composer for about a decade or more and serendipity has shined on her offering her the chance to work on two notable projects, and her excellent work on both has been recognized by her peers. That’s fantastic, it’s the way things should work.
You have talent, you work your ass off, build some credits, which lead to better credits, do amazing work and get recognized for it. That’s the dream. That’s what all of us in this business aspire to, whether we’re actors, directors, cinematographers, writers, costume designers, composers and on and on. We all bust our butts working our way up with the hope and expectation that if we’re good enough and persistent enough we can make a decent career at our craft and if we’re really lucky go farther and be at the top echelon of our field. For some it happens early in their careers, for others late, for many it takes a decade or two and for some it never quite happens.
I feel I have been very fortunate in my career so far. I entered this profession with the hopes of becoming an A-list composer. As things turned out I became a reasonably successful music-editor and have had a pretty good run of it these past 20 or so years. I’ve had some achievements that I never could have dreamed of. I’ve been privileged to work with some of Hollywood’s top talent and on some great projects and have received some recognition for my work along the way, too. Am I where I want to be in my career? Honestly, no, not even close. Am I sometimes jealous of others who seem to be doing better than me? Honestly, yeah, sometimes, a little. But then I immediately remember this very important thing that carries me forward.
If it can happen to them, it can happen to me. If they can do it, so can I.
I’ll say it again. If it can happen to them, it can happen to me. If they can do it, so can I. And that makes me very happy, because whenever anyone else comes out of the shadows and into the spotlight it fills me with renewed hope and possibility that it could happen to me. How awesome is that?
Imagine if we never saw previously unknown talent make it and rise to the top. We never saw other succeed, and the game seems completely rigged so that the A-listers were really the only ones who could be that, and no-one else had a chance. What a depressing thought. Yet every time a new name comes to the fore and is recognized it’s a reminder that the sky is the limit and that (assuming we have enough talent, and a decent personality) as long as we are persistent, luck can and likely will shine on us, too. If it happened to them, it could happen to us. And let’s not forget that all these A-listers started out as complete unknowns, too. But they persisted and worked and pushed until things happened for them.
When I see someone else succeed, especially someone who was previously not well known, I am truly buoyed and energized and filled with joy and happiness for them, because their success is a reminder of what mine could be. If it can happen to them, it can happen to me and that’s a great feeling.
Sadly, I’m disappointed at some of the posts I’ve seen on social media following Hildur’s win. There are those that don’t like her score to Joker and feel someone else should have one. There’s nothing wrong with feeling that way. Music is art and art is subjective. I have felt that way many times. But I don’t see the point of saying that right after someone wins an Oscar or any other accolade. Especially when the tone is denigrating to the winner. What’s the point of such a post? What does it achieve other than making one sound bitter and petty? How does crapping on other people’s success make you look good? If you must perhaps congratulate the winner and then mention your favorite who didn’t win and be their champion. I’ve seen too many posts disparaging her score rather than exalting the one they wish had won. There’s nothing wrong with expressing you thought someone else’s work was deserving of the win, but it can be done in a positive way without needing to demean the other.
And I’ve also seen a bunch of men rush to note that Rachel Portman & Anne Dudley have both won Oscars for their music so Hildur is not the first to win Best Score. They are not entirely wrong, but I think what they are doing is, I presume unintentionally, belittling Hildur’s achievement and how important this moment is for so many women, especially in our field. This is a strictly semantic argument, both Rachel Portman and Anne Dudley won in the Best Musical or Comedy Score category, which was separate from the Best Original Music Score category at the time, and has since been dropped leaving just the singular Best Original Music Score category.
So Hildur is, indeed, the first woman to win for Best Original Music Score. That statement is accurate and does absolutely nothing to diminish or take away the accomplishments of the two women who came before her. But I feel that bringing it up the two previous winners is saying “this isn’t such a big deal” it (again I assume inadvertently) knocks Hildur’s achievement down a notch. Even if the intention is to highlight the success of Dudley & Portman, it comes at the expense of Guðnadóttir when the post simply makes the point that they had previously won.
Hildur’s win is a huge deal not just for her, but for the many aspiring women working in our field who are beginning to make strides. Like Pinar Toprak, Laura Karpman, Germaine Franco, Kathryn Bostic, Sherri Chung and other women composers who are breaking through in a heavily male-dominated field, Hildur Guðnadóttir is a role-model to aspiring women and girls showing them that their dreams of being film/TV composers are possible. And by winning the Academy Award she demonstrates that not only can women succeed, but they can achieve the pinnacle of success. Those of us who have always had role-models may find it difficult to imagine how meaningful it is to see a role-model when there wasn’t one before (or very few).
I don’t have direct analogy to explain my point because women winning an Oscar for music is so rare, but I think this is somewhat akin to it. Imagine if when Alexandre Desplat won his well-deserved first Oscar for The Grand Budapest Hotel the press and other French people made a big deal of a French man winning the Oscar. And immediately people came out to point out that Ludovic Bource and Maurice Jarre and Michel Legrand and Georges Delerue and Francis Lai and Maurice Jarre had all come before him. Not a word of praise for Desplat, just “what about all these French men that won previously?”
Again, this isn’t a perfect analogy, but I just can’t imagine this happening. Yet for some reason when a woman wins in the age of #metoo and female empowerment these types of posts are everywhere. To what purpose?
We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We all have our own opinions, thoughts, preferences and feelings about everything, including who should have won last night. But why do some of us find it necessary to divert the spotlight away from the winner rather than bask in the glow? I just don’t see the purpose in it. I may take some flak for calling out my colleagues on this, but I just don’t understand the need for negativity.
Remember, if they can do it, so can I. So be happy for them for their accomplishments, relish in their success because one day it will be yours and I’m sure you wouldn’t want anyone taking away from your success.