The Academy Awards began in 1929. Frank Borzage and Lewis Milestone both won Best Director for Seventh Heaven and Two Arabian Knights. In 2010, for the very first time in that category, a female won. Before Kathryn Bigelow’s win for The Hurt Locker, Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, and Sofia Coppola had been the only women ever even nominated for Best Director in the 82 years the event occurred. While the Academy annually recognizes women in the categories of Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, the title of director holds more power that is not often attributed to females in the film industry, let alone celebrated.
Women “behind the scenes” in the film industry usually occupy the roles of editors rather than directors, cinematographers or executive producers. While editing is a crucial part of the production process, it does not lend itself to public recognition. This “invisible art” is designed to go unnoticed, so that the actors’ work can blend seamlessly and the director’s vision can be created onscreen. Historically, editors were just a set of hands to cut and piece together bits of old-fashioned film reels. The women who performed this task weren’t deemed important enough to be mentioned in the credits. Editors were often wives to male directors of the films they worked on, and are only remembered in historical accounts as such.
For Bigelow to achieve what some consider the highest honor for a career in film – and for a war movie, no less – is a major departure from those days of unacknowledged manual labor. A lot of Oscar buzz hyped the competition against her ex-husband James Cameron, nominated for Avatar. Cameron had the big budget and high-tech gimmicks to make a box-office success, but took a hit from the Academy in both Best Director and Best Picture. A recent issue of Rolling Stone predicted Bigelow’s Oscar win, “for reasons that have nothing to do with being a woman. She deserves it.”
Her previous work includes Blue Steel, Point Break, and K-19: The Widowmaker. While she claims to place no emphasis on breaking gender roles in her work, her repertoire of horror, mystery and action movies led some critics to think of her as a “transvestite of directors,” displaying an affinity for stereotypically masculine scripts. Just as all women do not exclusively love romantic comedies, men are not the sole intended audience for war and action movies. This is evidenced by the widespread acclaim of The Hurt Locker, which has won over 40 awards and counting. All of those voters couldn’t possibly have been men. If her genuine cinematic interests are heists and police chases, fantastic. If posing as “one of the guys” will break down the door to the boys’ club, that is- Hollywood, even better.
Hopefully, Bigelow’s great work as a director will be her legacy for females in film, not her role as the wife of another director.