Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar Win and Questioning Women’s Roles in Hollywood

The 82nd Academy Awards will forever hold a special significance for me. Kathryn Bigelow’s win for Best Director showed me that women in mainstream Hollywood are capable of producing excellent films worthy of recognition, and gave me a filmmaking role model. I am in my third year of studying film in university, dreaming of being a filmmaker in the future, and Bigelow was the first time I’d had any sort of woman in the industry to look up to.

Bigelow’s involvement made me have more interest in the Oscars last year than ever before. I was absolutely mesmerized by The Hurt Locker and I wanted it to win everything it was nominated for. The combination of stunning visuals – particularly the brightness of the desert – with a strong story really struck me. I even bought into the media-concocted “feud” between Bigelow and James Cameron simply because I detested Avatar so much. By the time Oscar night rolled around, I was bouncing around in a semi-permanent state of excitement.

I was alone on Oscar night, with a rather large amount of beer at my disposal. My ex-boyfriend, who I lived with at the time, was at work. I promised to call him with results whenever I could. We wanted completely different films and people to win: I wanted anyone who was not Avatar or Sandra Bullock to win, while he was an unapologetic Avatar fanboy and thought The Blind Side was “inspiring.” Most of my picks ended up winning, and I was a ball of nerves when Best Director was about to be presented.

As soon as Bigelow’s name was read, I was jubilant. I jumped around my apartment, I screamed, I danced, I chugged my beer. I made so much noise celebrating that I completely missed her speech! I picked up my phone, hands shaking with delight, and dialed my ex’s number.

“Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director!” I exclaimed as soon as he answered.

“Stupid bitch didn’t deserve to win!” he screamed at me, and hung up.

He ruined my entire night with six words.

His reaction shattered me. I could understand being disappointed if he disliked The Hurt Locker, but we both enjoyed it. I knew he really wanted James Cameron to win, but I knew he wouldn’t react with such blind anger if someone other than Cameron or Bigelow won. He didn’t provide any legitimate criticism, choosing to attack Bigelow’s gender because he felt she was inferior. This raised a lot of questions for me. How would he react if I won an Oscar? Would he be proud of me, or would he say something like “Congratulations, honey, but you’re just a stupid bitch who didn’t deserve to win. Now make me a sandwich!” How else would I be discriminated against because of my gender? How many other people would completely dismiss Bigelow’s win because she is a woman? Was the reason the Academy hadn’t yet honoured a woman director because they were afraid of backlash from people like my ex?

Instead of being completely disillusioned by my ex’s words, I decided to use them to my advantage. In that moment he completely embodied the misogynistic attitude that is pervasive in Hollywood, and I hated it. This incident inspired me to work even harder to achieve my dream of being a filmmaker and changing some of Hollywood’s attitudes towards women. Bigelow’s Oscar win was long-awaited, and hopefully demonstrated that women are capable of producing great films that appeal to a wide audience. The popularity of films such as The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone that are written and directed by women is heartening. Strides are being taken to increase the recognition of women filmmakers in Hollywood, but it remains painfully obvious that full equality has yet to be achieved. It would be wonderful to live in a world where women filmmakers are recognized for their wonderful films and not considered exceptional simply due to their gender. We have quite a lot to work through before we reach that point, but I’d like to think we’ll reach it eventually.

10 thoughts on “Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar Win and Questioning Women’s Roles in Hollywood”

  1. While I agree with you that it was awesome to see Bigelow win, and I was totally rooting for her, I wonder what your thoughts are on the fact that the movie in question was a “manly war movie.” Do you think the Academy will ever reward a female director or writer for a movie that doesn’t necessarily subscribe to or describe masculine themes? (Or if someone thinks this has already happened, please let me know, my knowledge of film isn’t all that extensive.)

    1. I think Bigelow’s would have been just as significant if she’d directed a film with more feminine themes. I am glad that she did direct a “manly war movie” because it demonstrates that women can direct films focusing on traditionally male subject matter. I think one of the reasons more women haven’t been recognized is the false notion that the only films women are interested in producing are romantic comedies, and Bigelow is helping to tear down that barrier.

      As for women being recognized for directing films that subscribe to more feminine themes, I’d love for that to happen. Interestingly, of the three other women who have been nominated for Best Director two were nominated for films with more traditionally feminine themes: Jane Campion for The Piano and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (the third woman, Lina Wertmüller, directed Seven Beauties, a war film about concentration camps). Based on this, I think a win for a woman directing a more feminine-themed film is on the horizon, and I’ll be delighted when it happens.

      1. This comment reminded me that more women have been married to James Cameron than have been nominated for Best Director. Ugh.

        Anyway, thanks for responding. I definitely agree that Bigelow proved that women can direct what are commonly thought of as men’s movies, and that women’s interests can’t be narrowly defined (nor can men’s, duh). And I’m glad that the Academy at least nominates films that don’t subscribe to dominant, “masculine” themes. I just worry a bit about whether those films get their due consideration, when I find the Academy to, for the most part, reinforce patriarchal notions in our society.

  2. I’m glad that dude’s an ex. Just saying.

    I sort of hated the Cameron/Bigelow “rivalry.” I feel like the competition could have stood on the merits of the movies alone (well, except for Avatar, which was TERRIBLE). But they had to bring in the whole “feuding exes” thing, which they weren’t even.

    1. I could probably write a novel about how awful my ex was. He was very emotionally abusive. I probably should not have bought into the ridiculous Bigelow/Cameron “feud”. I think I enjoyed it because my ex and I were feuding over Avatar and it kind of paralleled our personal feud.

  3. I loved The Hurt Locker. I was even willing to give it a pass for being a white male themed movie because not only was it directed by a woman but it promoted the heroism of our troops without getting political. You don’t see that a lot.

    This year it’s all a toss up between Rich White Boy Goes to Harvard, Starts Website That Makes Lots of Money and Rich White Boy Lives in Palace, Has Trouble Speaking Publicly.

    1. I completely agree with you on the portrayal of the troops and I was very glad there was no real political message involved. I definitely felt it humanized the soldiers and reminded the audience that they’re ordinary men who loved doing extraordinary things. No matter how you feel about a conflict, you should always support your troops, which is something everyone promotes up here in Canada.

    2. I was glad too that the film didn’t have a political agenda. It was focused on the characters, and was separate from anything related to the politics of the war. I thought it was well-written, and both Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie were great in it.

      I was happy that she won, since I had liked Strange Days and Near Dark so much, both are standouts films in their genres (sci-fi and horror).

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