Published March 2012
Kathryn Wins Big, but Hollywood Still Hurts for Female Directors
by Alison Ross
I have never been a huge fan of action flicks. Sure, I like some of them a lot, but it is not my favored film genre by far. But when I saw “Point Break” back in the early 90s, I was pleasantly impressed with the movie’s highly competent execution. It elevated the normally pedestrian action movie style to a more refined realm. It had an artistic atmosphere that redeemed the more superficial elements germane to this genre.
Now, when I saw the futuristic/cyberpunk film noir “Strange Days” in 1996, it was because I was enamored with Ralph Fiennes at the time, not because I was drawn to that type of film (although I do enjoy film noir). And upon seeing it, I found the movie disconcertingly distasteful in some regards, and only re-watched it based on my Fiennes infatuation. But these libido-induced viewings had a fortuitous effect: they enabled me to discern the movie’s manifold merits beneath its sleazy sheen. The movie is a lusciously layered affair, it turns out.
There is a repulsive rape scene that I do believe should have been jettisoned from the film, and it’s this scene that caused repelled reactions among critics and audiences. And, indeed, the film’s hyperbolically cheap aura, occasional over-the-top acting, and at times disjointed structure doomed the movie to box office oblivion.
But there are still enough fascinating facets – a delectably dark apocalyptic tone, Fiennes' transformative performance, Angela Basset’s strongly drawn female character who offers a refreshing counterpoint to the misogynistic fantasy provided by Juliet Lewis, the searing political satire - to render it a film worthy of watching. So based on my reactions to these two films alone, I knew that the director, Kathryn Bigelow, boasted considerable talent. The fact that she was a woman intrigued me, because both films are testosterone-oriented affairs. This fact also intrigued me because female directors on the Hollywood and indie scenes are so scarce. But I didn't think too deeply about these subjects until Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” was released and Oscar chatter began to buzz.
I was immensely impressed with “The Hurt Locker.” As much as I appreciated “Point Break” and “Strange Days,” I felt “The Hurt Locker” was in the league of Major Movies, on par with the best from a Kubrick or Scorcese. And my second viewing of it only cemented these impressions, rather than exposing any bold blemishes, as repeated viewings sometimes do. “The Hurt Locker” is of a lofty caliber in terms of acting, and technical and aesthetic direction. While the movie does have its inevitable detractors, I believe it to be one of the best movies ever made.
When Bigelow grabbed not only the Best Director but Best Picture Oscar honors for “The Hurt Locker,” I was overcome with what can only be described as an empowering euphoria. Bigelow's win came on the heels of my just having read The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir's devastatingly dense and insightful tome about the condition of women, and so I was already in training to be more vigilant about women's issues. Sure, I've always lamented the oppression of women, but I have also been proud of the strides women have made.
And I myself have NEVER identified as female FIRST, but rather as a human being, and have been mystified at times by those who have taken offense to my assertiveness. I have had to remind myself that some people allow themselves to be cowed by smart, feisty femmes, while they raise men of a similar mien to god-like status. Women's pulchritude is prized over our perspicuity. And of course, in response I say: FUCK THAT SHIT!
So not only does “The Hurt Locker” DESERVE EVERY accolade thrown its way REGARDLESS of the director's gender, but it's HIGH FUCKING TIME the Academy acknowledges the gifts of a female director. The Academy has only ever nominated FOUR female directors in its 82 years of existence. What the FUCK is up with that crap? Sure, you can argue that there are more male than female directors - but let's analyze WHY that is, exactly! Could it POSSIBLY have to do with the fact that WOMEN are NOT ENCOURAGED to be behind the camera, but rather in front of it (there's that pesky pulchritude versus perspicuity thing again)? Could it be that the technical has long been held to be the domain of MEN? Never mind that directing encompasses so many facets - technical, creative, and so on. And never mind that a genitals and aptitude are two separate things.
Apparently, according to articles I have been reading about Bigelow's historic win, Hollywood has a legacy of hiring male directors over female ones. No big surprise, of course, but this fact should nonetheless cause riotous outrage. There don't seem to be MORE female directors because Hollywood and even the independent film institutions are DISSUADING them from pursuing the field. THAT is so fucked up I cannot even wrap my (ample) breasts around it. Now, many critics and film insiders have been touting Bigelow's win as an historic leap for female directors, while a few have been a bit more circumspect about it.
Those who are circumspect likely feel that Bigelow would not have won with a more female-oriented film – “The Hurt Locker” is male-laden, and it can even be argued that it taps into our primitive proclivities for bellicose conflict, even as the film has palpable anti-war overtones. And, also, the circumspection probably stems from the suspicion that Bigelow's win is just an anomaly, and that things will continue as usual in Hollywood and in independent film.
And I can be a bit empathetic to those concerns, because I do believe that even the most virulent anti-war film will invariably stoke some bloodlust, AND because I too have wondered why Bigelow is so focused on virility in her films, when I would naturally welcome a more balanced approach. At the same time, I can recognize that men are fully capable of making chick flicks, while women are fully capable of making dick flicks. Again, it's our HUMANITY that unites us... and fuck those who would be so divisive as to ghettoize the genders.
But of course, it may very well be that Hollywood and the indie film industry will retreat back to their circle jerks over male directors, Bigelow's win signifying nothing more than a barrier only temporarily blasted. Perhaps the future will indeed remain bleak for the would-be Jane Campions, Sofia Coppolas, Jodie Fosters, and Diane Keatons. But one would hope that this isn't the case, that people have now been alerted to the fact that yes, a human being endowed with a vulva can not only helm the making of films, but make staggeringly brilliant ones at that. Oh sure, audiences knew that from previous female-directed movies, such as the Piano and Lost in Translation, but those films were not legitimized in the same way that “The Hurt Locker” has been.
For, like it or not, the Academy Awards DO sway taste. They do not necessarily always have the monopoly on what's good, but Oscar exposure usually guarantees a wider audience. And now that it's been made patently clear that a woman directed “The Hurt Locker,” maybe this will alter some people’s provincial perceptions.
It will be a glaringly bright day indeed when half or more of the 10 movies nominated for Best Picture are directed by women. It will be a shimmeringly sunny afternoon when we don’t have to write tirades about the dearth of directors who possess a pussy, and female-helmed movies are as routine as a Meryl Streep Oscar nomination.