Back in 2009, one of my final papers for college tracked the gender-influenced media attention spiraling around Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Director nomination (and win) for The Hurt Locker. The campaign essentially focused on the concept that no other woman won the award and the subsequent implications it had provided that the voting body is comprised of older white men. In shaping a narrative for her eventual win, much of the media focused on her relationship with ex-husband James Cameron – her stiffest competition for the prize following the commercial success of Avatar. The initial campaigning process dwelled on the David vs. Goliath disparity in their box office intake (The Hurt Locker’s domestic gross totaled a little over 17 million whereas Avatar, the highest grossing film of all time, tallied just short of 750 million). But as push comes to shove, the nature of her relationship with Cameron, their working relationship- and the fact that Bigelow was a woman - all became crucial talking points. Note that her influence and skill at helming The Hurt Locker was hardly, if ever, spoken of.
History was made when Bigelow became the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar, but not much has changed since. No other woman has entered the Best Director race following her win, and few others have even remotely been in contention. Debra Granik’s Winter Bone and Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids are All Right have the notoriety of scoring Best Picture nominations (along with a writing and acting nominations), but were shut out in the director’s competition – neither film won a single Academy award. 2011 saw exceptional female-driven work with Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and Celine Sciamma’s Tomboy (along with Dee Rees’ Pariah and Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey) – neither film registered a single Academy award nomination.
And now we’re back to 2012, where only one female filmmaker is generating any sort of buzz at all – Kathryn Bigelow. Zero Dark Thirty has been a film lurking in the dark for most pundits. Unsure as to what to make of it, many have opted to simply not add it into the discussion until more information was revealed (an interesting decision given that Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables was in a similar position yet most were, sight unseen, proclaiming it a Best Picture and Best Director contender). But as the film is beginning to screen for critics, I’m most intrigued by Richard Corliss’ (of Time Magazine) review, whereupon he notes that Bigelow is “a strong woman who has mastered a man’s game”.
The gender dynamic is still a persistent obstacle for most female directors to bypass. As much as I admire aspects of The Hurt Locker, it serves as a problematic reassurances that the only way a woman is capable of transcending and breaking the gender expectations is to helm a film geared toward males – the notion of Bigelow playing a man’s game is the sort of backhanded comment that only underscores how problematic it is for women to helm films that deal with their worldview and experiences. What makes Zero Dark Thirty so intriguing is how Bigelow (with co-writer Mark Boal) institutes a level of gender consciousness. Featuring Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life, The Help, and Take Shelter) in the lead role, the male-oriented gender dynamic of The Hurt Locker is subverted and presented in a female role. The simplicity of this shift deviates from the overt maleness of The Hurt Locker and presents the potential for greater depth.
As glad as I am that Zero Dark Thirty is finally getting on pundits radars, a problem persists for female directors. Bigelow remains the only female director with a slight chance of securing any awards traction for the 2013 Academy Awards – the gender disparity in this kind of profession is unbelievably skewed.
My updated Oscar predictions can be found on the sidebar. For analysis on individual categories, check out the Oscar Predictions page.