She Wins

Last night I watched the Oscars with a room full of filmmaker friends. Some of them were my friends before we ever made a movie together, and some of them are my friends because we worked together. But it doesn’t really matter how our friendship blossomed. What does matter is that I was with them, all of us cheering, when Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to receive an Oscar for her achievement in directing. I was with the people who have supported me, believed in me, cheered for ME in my burgeoning career as a (woman) director. Around me were filmmakers that inspire me, collaborators that make me better at my craft, talents that I want to work with for the rest of my career. I was exactly where I should have been.

The meaningfulness of Kathryn’s win has been questioned and even lost on some.  Scott Mendelson of THE HUFFINGTON POST said:

“While it’s terrific that the previously-undervalued Bigelow became the first female to win Best Director, it’s more than a little depressing that such a big deal must be made of it. As I’ve always said, progress comes when you don’t have to talk about it… On the other hand, how refreshing that a black man was nominated for Best Director and we more or less forgot about the color of his skin during the campaign season? Progress comes when we don’t feel the need to mention it.”

For me, it is “such a big deal.” And no one is saying we’ve made progress. I think the major attention paid to Kathryn Bigelow’s nomination and predicted win is more about noticing the lack of progress but the potential for it.

I’m glad “The Kathryn Bigelow Story” got media attention even if some of the approaches were misguided (Scott does go into this in a way less revolting way: “What bugged me most about the awards season is how so many pundits tried to turn James Cameron into the big male bully and Kathryn Bigelow into some helpless female victim of his male oppression.”) It would have needed drugs to pull me out of the depression I’d fall into if no one had noticed or cared that it took us 82 years to produce a woman director whose work was worthy of the award AND give it to her.

I say ‘us’ because it’s easy to point the finger at the Academy, but is it their fault that only 7% of directors (the same as in 1987) on the 250 top-grossing movies are women? They didn’t create patriarchy.

Very few women choose to direct. Fewer still actually get to make movies. This is not to say that we should scurry to “make up for it” and give anyone with two X chromosomes the bullhorn or that doors should open because it’s forward-thinking to consider a directorial candidate who owns a mini skirt. I want it to be about the work not if someone’s got a womb. (Kathryn Bigelow did the work. I thought so back in July when I saw THE HURT LOCKER.) For the work to be good, more women filmmakers have to go out there and make killer movies, which is difficult no matter what your gender. However, I believe, it’s even harder if you aren’t part of the club. As the numbers show us, women directors are the unusual, the unexpected and unknown which is an unpopular choice to champion, finance, or encourage in a town that operates under the mantra of No.

Personally, it means a lot to me that Kathryn Bigelow won. It reinforces that I haven’t dreamed a madwoman’s dream. But in the big picture, it means a lot that Kathryn Bigelow won because the moment she got on that stage and took that little, gold man in her hands, the idea of a woman successfully directing a film wasn’t quite so unorthodox, surprising, or crazytown. It became real and 41.3 million people were watching.


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