March 22, 2010

Kathryn Bigelow: Best Director. Period.

Guest post by Rachel O:

The Hurt Locker is a movie that while, not hitting big at the box office, hit big with critics, and racked up the awards at the Oscars – Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Picture.  Portraying the story of a bomb technician in Iraq without being Anti-War or Pro-Bush, Kathryn Bigelow is having a good year in Hollywood.  While this certainly isn’t the first time Bigelow has directed a “manly”/”masculine” action movie, it’s the first time she’s garnered this much attention.   She directed a successful, and, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, brilliant movie, but also became the first for women in many places – first to win a Director’s Guild Award, first to take home the Oscar for Best Director.

Both pre- and post-Oscars, much has been written, some praising, some criticizing Bigelow and The Hurt Locker.  In the midst of award season, Martha Nochimson wrote an article at Salon that resorted to personal attacks on the director.  Nochimson took issue with the fact that while Bigelow was racking up awards and nominations, Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers, two other female directors who direct “life-affirming situations of romantic comedy” were cast by the wayside.  However, it didn’t seem to be a case of gender divided media, (i.e. all books that feature stories about women are considered “chick lit”).  Sometimes shit is just shit, no matter of the gender of the writer, director, producer, or characters.  I saw Julie and Julia, and personally, I didn’t think it could even compare to The Hurt Locker in terms of worthiness of awards, and truly amazing filmmaking.  My criticisms did not come from the fact that the person behind the lens has ovaries, but rather because the movies are simply not as good.  These romantic comedies which Nochimson wrote so highly of, are sometimes just as (if not more) damaging than a typical “guys” movie.  I don’t feel put down while watching Zombieland, but get depressed about the state of women in Hollywood while watching the trailer for All About Steve.  Jeremy Renner, in a recent interview, was told by the interviewer, that everyone she knew was shocked that such a “macho” film had been directed by a woman.  Renner simply responded, “What does having a set of ovaries have to do with directing a film? It’s through her eyes that she sees, not through her mammaries or anything else that defines her as a woman, right?”

Nochisom (or possibly an editor at Salon) felt an appropriate title for the piece was “Kathryn Bigelow: Feminist Pioneer or Tough Guy In Drag.”  I feel that calling Bigelow’s gender into question in the headline was just downright disgusting .  Nochimson put forth the idea that Kathryn Bigelow acts all tough, being such a badass in directing a war movie, to impress all the cool dudes – she couldn’t possibly be interested in making a war movie because she wants to, right?  On top of her hypercritical anger at Bigelow, Nochimson took homophobic shots at the successful director, writing that while Quentin Tarantino referred to her as the “Queen of Directors” (after her DGA win), a more accurate description would have been “Transvestite of Directors.”

The writer directed her anger at the fact that the whole movie is about this guy who diffuses bombs, and they focus on him the entire time!  Nochimson failed at both the movie and social/pop culture critical levels.  In criticizing the fact that Kathryn Bigelow failed to give the female characters (the daughter and wife of the main character, Will) a voice in the film, she simply came off as someone who participates in faux feminism.  That she wrote such a scathing piece about Bigelow because she’s successful, and did it while not having female characters (no matter their role) in her film, pointed out a much bigger failure on Nochimson’s part than Bigelow’s.

Following Bigelow’s historic win at the Oscars, one would think the anger and grievances for her and her film would slow, or even stop.  Instead a new set of issues sprung forth, people complaining about her male centric career up to this point, questioning her win based on the subject matter of The Hurt Locker and taking issue with Bigelow’s apparent lack of recognition of what a milestone moment it was for women.

Susan G. Cole wrote a critical piece, titled “Kathryn Bigelow: The Absentee Feminist.”  Cole makes assumptions based on Bigelow’s 120 second long acceptance speech – she must not celebrate International Women’s Day, appreciate the historic moment it was when she won, or care about her gender.  Seeing the almost immediate criticisms that appeared online after her win, my boyfriend said “She directed the best film of the year – period.”  To say I agree with that sentiment is an understatement.

Apparently praising her fellow nominees, dedicating her award to the troops, and thanking the critics who supported the film, along with the cast and crew who helped her make The Hurt Locker wasn’t good enough.  Cole compares Bigelow’s speech to Halle Berry’s 2002 Best Actress win at the same awards show, stating, “Berry wholly acknowledged that she’d made history, emotionally responded to the Oscar’s significance, reeled off the names of those actors who paved the way before her – from Hattie McDaniel onwards – and grasped that she didn’t do it on her own.  Not Bigelow.”  While it was Berry’s prerogative to mention the achievement in her award speech, I don’t think it’s right to position that against Bigelow for not doing the same.  The media talked about Bigelow’s gender constantly, and it’s pretty obvious she must’ve known what a big deal it was.

Cole’s piece feels unfocused – she writes about how feminist bashers love Kathryn Bigelow’s supposed stance on her gender, but then goes on to write about the attack on Women’s Studies courses and programs throughout the country.  The last line of the article is particularly bothersome – Cole blames Bigelow for ruining the week (Oscars on Sunday, International Women’s Day on Monday), writing “All in all, what could have been a great week for women turned out to be a bit of a washout.”  To blame Bigelow for ruining the week for 50% of the population is a little offensive to say the least.  It’s unfair to put all that on her shoulders.  While I think it’s important to examine gender and the role it has played historically in movies, Hollywood, and the award shows that praise them – I don’t think it’s worthwhile to attack this moment, to dissect every minute detail of Bigelow’s films, speeches, interviews, looking for flaws to criticize her on.  I’ll simply repeat the sentiment I felt after watching Bigelow take the stage twice in a row on Oscar night – The Hurt Locker was awesome, Bigelow is brilliant, and that’s that.

Kathryn Bigelow: Feminist Pioneer or Tough Guy In Drag? (Salon)

“It’s Through Her Eyes That She Sees”: Kathryn Bigelow On 60 Minutes (Jezebel)

Kathryn Bigelow: The Absentee Feminist (NOW Magazine)

1 Comment »

  1. I don’t mean to harp too much on this gender issue, but I do find it somewhat interesting how drastically “macho” this film was – especially as directed by a woman. The scene where the three of them get drunk and wrestle around, punching each other in the gut with their shirts off, outdoes even the machismo of the high-five-laden shower scenes of Top Gun. Whereas typical war films usually focus on the aspects of duty, patriotism, tragedy, brotherhood, the Hurt Locker seems to focus almost entirely on the male rivalry between its two main characters. I can’t help but feel like Bigelow made it overly macho (and this, set alongside her criticisms for the films inaccuracies, I feel must come from a place of inexperience with war). So I don’t know if these aspects of the film are present because Bigelow is specifically a woman, but maybe because she has a preconceived, feministic perspective of war that errs on the side of inaccuracy.

    Also, not to split hairs, but I believe he had a son in the film. Not a daughter.

    Comment by Russell — April 3, 2010 @ 9:18 pm

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