Hollywood has long been a boy’s club and this truth has never been more apparent among its elite directors—Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese, Lucas, Cameron, Eastwood. Their names are synonymous with a distinctive style, box office success, massive fan followings and accolades galore. Considering this overwhelming male-presence in the directing category, I’ve sometimes wondered what it will be like when a female director finally wins the Academy Award for Best Director. As a cynic, I’ve also pictured the world imploding 2012-style as this director makes her acceptance speech.
Throughout the 82-year history of the Academy Awards, only four women have been nominated for Best Director: Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow, who is nominated for directing the Iraq War thriller The Hurt Locker. Kathryn Bigelow is often compared to her peers for her directorial choices. Unlike big-name female directors such as Nora Ephron (Julie & Julia) and Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated), Bigelow is an action film director. For this reason, her films, which feature male characters and big explosions, are recognized as not being “female.” This fact is often harped on by critics when reviewing her films, including The Hurt Locker.
The Hurt Locker is the first post-invasion Iraq war film that has been a critical success. The film seems destined to be named the Best Picture at this year’s Oscars ceremony. The film follows a bomb disposal unit during the final months of their deployment. It is a graphically violent depiction of war yet has a moral message unseen in typical war films. Considering that war movies and female directors almost never go together, this unique moralistic message has been credited to the female presence behind the camera.
Bigelow recognizes the need to focus on her gender as a determining factor for why her action films are unique. But as she said in an interview with Slate magazine, “I think of a person as a filmmaker, not a male or female filmmaker…Yes, we’re informed by who we are, and perhaps we’re even defined by that, but yet, the work has to speak for itself.”
Still Bigelow is in the unfortunate circumstance of being nominated the same year as her ex-husband, James Cameron. Although Bigelow and Cameron are good friends and have even collaborated since their 1991 divorce, the fact it’s the first time a divorced couple has been nominated in the same category will be continually discussed by the media. It seems that no matter how female directors remove themselves from the patriarchal system that is Hollywood, there will always be a catch. The work of female directors can never speak for themselves.
This is why as much as I think that Kathryn Bigelow will win the Academy Award for Best Director on Sunday night, it is still one outcome I won’t believe can happen until it does.
Published: March 4, 2010
The Mount Holyoke News