How relevant is Kathryn Bigelow’s gender?

Posted by · 6:45 am · January 8th, 2010

Kathryn BigelowAfter yesterday’s DGA announcement, there was a number of comments (some ecstatic, some more cynical) made about its demographic makeup of the nominees being more diverse than usual.

Where most years see white men fill every space on the ballot, this year features both a female and a black contender (a gay man, at that) in the lineup — the seventh and first in DGA history, respectively.

Trivia value notwithstanding, is this important? Does it mean that their artistic achievements should be measured any differently from those of their white, male peers?

Of course not. “The Hurt Locker” would be as stirring and distinctive a film had it been directed by someone with testicles — and, though some will say otherwise, I think it would still have caught critics’ and awards voters’ fancy. A great movie is a great movie is a great movie, after all.

This issue is argued from both ends in an indieWIRE piece by Matthew Hammett Knott, who ultimately concludes that, imperfect world that this is, Kathryn Bigelow’s gender is important:

“The Hurt Locker” is an action film, a genre typically the preserve of male directors. Many critics have expressed delight that Bigelow is receiving such acclaim for a film that is so atypical to the type of films women are usually allowed to direct … In an ideal world, [her gender] would be a fact barely worth mentioning. But the status quo for women in Hollywood is far from ideal, and part of the route towards equality and opportunity involves expanding the perception of what it is possible for female filmmakers to achieve. I recently had a conversation with a teenager who simply assumed “The Hurt Locker” was directed by a man. In which case, periodically highlighting Kathryn Bigelow’s gender may be no bad thing.

As much as I love her film on its own merits, I have to agree. It’s hard for me not to get excited about the possibility of seeing Kathryn Bigelow become the first female Oscar winner for Best Director — mostly because it would be due recognition for a remarkable, long-serving artist, but also because it would be a small step towards changing the widespread perception of Hollywood as a boys’ club.

It would be unwise to place weighty expectations of sweeping change on a single award: after all, eight years after Halle Berry’s history-making Oscar win, plum parts for black actresses are still thin on the ground. Still, after a year which has seen numerous critics and journalists pick up on the unusual prominence of female directors in 2009 — from the multiplex territory of Nancy Meyers to the arthouse fringes of Claire Denis — an Oscar for Bigelow would help keep that narrative aloft in the industry.

All that, and it’d be for the year’s most broadly acclaimed film, fending off any accusations of politically correct voting. It’s too good (and currently rare) an opportunity to miss.

→ 18 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

18 responses so far

  • 1 1-08-2010 at 6:49 am

    Shelby said...

    I just don’t understand where gender should be considered an issue here.

    I’m not even a fan of some of Bigelow’s movies (Strange Days was awful), but she’s a known quantity and is certainly no flavor of the month. I have no feeling whatsoever that she’s being singled out for her gender or that she’s a frontrunner because of her gender.

  • 2 1-08-2010 at 7:01 am

    the other mike said...

    i saw the title of this entry and how did i know it would be Guy? he really is a deep thinker of our times.

  • 3 1-08-2010 at 7:51 am

    Patryk said...

    This will be the subject of much debate in the coming months. Magazines, newspapers blogs and talk radio need to sell a story. But the real story here is plain. “The Hurt Locker” stands alone on merit this year. Bigelow’s gender is incidental. The win will be historic, just as the Presidential election was historic. But the bottom line is that the Best Director of 2009 will win the Academy Award, and she happens to be a woman.

  • 4 1-08-2010 at 7:51 am

    coffeefortwo said...

    Bigelow’s gender is no factor for those of us who weigh the movies entirely on their merits, but I think it’s widely acknowledged that that’s not exactly what Oscar voters do. Halle Berry’s win is good example. Monster’s Ball was a decently respected film, and Berry’s performance was cited plenty as one of the stronger elements of the film, but she hardly plowed through the precursors. National Board of Review was the only significant critics’ trophy she nabbed and she even lost the Golden Globe–an award the often opts for the biggest, sexiest star among the nominees–to Sissy Spacek. But she built momentum, and when the big night came she cried with her little golden man. I suspect part of the reason is that just enough Academy members checked their boxes with the hope of making history rather than as a result of thoughtfully measuring their opinions of the respective performances after careful viewings of all five.

    Maybe it shouldn’t be the case, but I think that Bigelow’s gender gives her an advantage on Oscar night. Assuming she gets nominated–and she’s the director who seems the surest of bets–the overwhelming narrative, regarding her category anyway, in the weeks leading up to the ceremony is the strong chance that a woman will finally win in a category that has historically locked their gender out entirely. That in and of itself will influence enough voters to opt for her. In that respect, her gender absolutely matters this year.

    Luckily, it’ll lead to an excellent choice as well, arguably the best choice the Academy could make, assuming that the Best Director slate looks a lot like the DGA nominees.

  • 5 1-08-2010 at 9:43 am

    Al said...

    Its the same with any “first” or “rare” factor, it shouldnt be the reason she wins, but should she its an accomplishment of sorts.

  • 6 1-08-2010 at 11:29 am

    JR said...

    Plum parts are increasingly rare for actresses of any race , especially in Hollywood. If there were any justice, Michelle Pfeiffer and Anjelica Huston would be working as much as Meryl Streep.

  • 7 1-08-2010 at 11:42 am

    /3rtfu11 said...

    “National Board of Review was the only significant critics’ trophy she nabbed”

    She nabbled the SAG award.

    “rather than as a result of thoughtfully measuring their opinions of the respective performances after careful viewings of all five”

    As though anyone who felt strongly about Berry’s work — should’ve re-thought their vote because you perferred another actress’ performance best.

  • 8 1-08-2010 at 12:04 pm

    coffeefortwo said...

    The SAG award isn’t a critics award.

    For what it’s worth, I thought, and still think, Berry absolutely deserved her win. I did watch all five nominated performances, and several other great performances that didn’t get nominated, and Berry was my personal pick for Best Actress.

    However, my opinion about the validity of the choice has nothing to do with what I wrote. It’s pretty clear that multiple factors go into the choices that Oscar voters make. Merit of an individual performance is only one of them, and for many Oscar voters, it’s not necessarily the predominant factor.

  • 9 1-08-2010 at 12:53 pm

    Tom said...

    Halle Berry’s moment was big, but not another black actress has been nominated since. In 30 years, only 5 women of color have been nominated for Best Actress. It seems like things are staying the same.

  • 10 1-08-2010 at 2:28 pm

    Matt said...

    Her gender seems quite important, considering she made a distinctly mediocre film that is being considered awards-worthy and mind-bafflingly one of the best of the year. I can only figure that “rah-rah” girl power crap is behind a lot of it.

  • 11 1-08-2010 at 3:48 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    She obviously shouldn’t win this because she’s a woman, but there’s no denying that it most likely will play a part in the race, and presumably to her advantage. Not only will it mean honoring a great and worthy directorial feat, but they’d break a barrier as well by having a female director winning the Oscar. Two birds with one stone.

    The good part about it though, if she wins, is that even if her gender might’ve helped her, she will win it because she deserves it for the work that she did. There will certainly be those who will whine and say she won because she’s a woman, but considering her achievement is so great I think that will be kept to a minimum compared to what it might be like if it were to happen with a female director where it would seem much more obvious that her gender had more to do with it and not just the achievement.

    And it’s not like the critics groups have a need or stigma about a female director either, there’s no reason to think the fact that she’s a woman has much to do with her winning.. and has there really ever been a female director in the past that has been this dominant in the precursors? That alone is a tell that they really do feel she is the best, period.

  • 12 1-08-2010 at 3:55 pm

    Emi said...

    “In 30 years, only 5 women of color have been nominated for Best Actress. It seems like things are staying the same.”

    Until Gabby Sidibe gets nominated.

  • 13 1-08-2010 at 6:46 pm

    J. Sperling Reich said...

    I would have to agree with not only the author of this post, but also some of the of the commentors. It’s unfortunate that a film can’t be judged solely on its own merit, despite the gender or race of its director. However, the reality is that African American and female directors have gotten fewer opportunities throughout the years to step behind a camera. As such they have not been afforded the same opportunities to gain experience and practice their craft. So, when a female director makes a film that is as strong and powerful as “The Hurt Locker” the achievement is not solely cinematic, but also turns out to have a social relevance as well.

    Though I find it odd that everyone is predicting Kathryn Bigelow will win this year’s Academy Award for Best Director when the nominations haven’t even been announced yet, should she be nominated, her gender will certainly play a part in whatever Oscar campaign is mounted on her behalf. If in the end Bigelow does walk off with an Oscar this year her gender most certainly will have played a role, though that would not make the award any less significant.

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned there is a chance Bigelow might be up against James Cameron, her ex-husband, should she be nominated for an Oscar. I wonder if that’s a first.

  • 14 1-08-2010 at 8:42 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Nope. The movie would still be a bloated, overrated mediocrity whether director was man or woman. But it certainly wouldn’t have been lauded with the same enthusiasm.

  • 15 1-09-2010 at 3:13 am

    the other mike said...

    by the way i dont think the academy is sexist, it just that i dont think many women want to direct, in the same numbers as men. Being a director is like being a General in the miltary, its guys stuff. I know that sounds sexist but it is.

    when women watch the oscrars, more than likely its about the outfits and the best actress award.

  • 16 1-09-2010 at 3:17 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Oh, Mike.

  • 17 1-09-2010 at 6:34 am

    Neel Mehta said...

    Bigelow’s gender is at least somewhat relevant. Were she a dude, then 3 of the DGA nominees would be gay.