Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Yesterday I kept hearing how Katherine Bigelow (every time I say her name I giggle) winning the academy award for Best Director was a landmark in women's rights. But was it really? I'm not so sure.
Firstly, what is this supposed to represent exactly? That films are now being judged by their calibre, and not the gender of the creator? Or that there are an increasing number of female directors in this undeniably male-dominated sphere, and therefore they have more chance of being recognised for their achievements?
Let's take a look at some of the facts.
Since the Oscars began in 1928, there have been four female nominees for Best Director: Lina Wertmüller for "Seven Beauties" (1976), Jane Campion for "The Piano" (1993), Sofia Coppola for "Lost in Translation" (2003), and Bigelow herself.
In another male-dominated area - Cinematography, a female director of photography has never won, and was only nominated for the first time in 2008! (Maryse Alberti for "The Wrestler", and Mandy Walker for " Australia" were both nominated that year. Robert Elswit won it for "There Will Be Blood")
And let's extend our scope slightly. Ang Lee is the only Asian (and non-Caucasian) to have won Best Director (for "Brokeback Mountain", 2005). No Afican-American has ever won the award.
Do these imbalances indicate that the film industry is sexist and racist? OR, are they symptomatic of a society which is still imbalanced?
I'm choosing to go with the latter. I have been in the industry for nearly 6 years, and I have never felt patronised for saying that I wanted to direct. What did hold me back was being more submissive and less able to bulls**t than my male counterparts. When you want to direct, or be a DP, you're in the limelight. You need to exude confidence at all times. This attitude creates opportunities that allows you to take your career to the next level.
I've spoken to many women about this, and they agree with me that its more common for men to have this ballsiness. This isn't the film industry's fault. It's because of how we are conditioned.
Which is why I think women excel in areas of film that are more behind-the-scenes. Take Editing as an example. This is an area of film that many women go into. I trained as an editor for several years, and I can say first hand that it's a safe, contained environment. You don't need to command respect in an editing suite with your personality - your talent does the talking. In the Oscars, women have been nominated for Best Editing since the award started in 1934 (Anne Bauchens for "Cleopatra"). Thelma Schoonmaker (who worked on many Scorsese films) has received three awards and six nominations, making her the second most coveted editor in the world (after Michael Kahn, who works with Spielberg).
Of course, there's also the matter of content. To generalise - men and women are interested in different things, and a creative person explore themes and topics that are of interest to them. But we live in a society that is still largely run by men. Is it possible that women deal with topics or themes that are more of interest to women, and this is why they're not celebrated? Bigelow's film has been critically acclaimed, but it is about the war in Iraq. The protagonists in "Seven Beauties" are soldiers. "Lost in Translation" is a story about love, between a washed-up oldish man and a beautiful, creative younger woman..!
If more women are being nominated for being directors, perhaps it's not because the industry is changing. Maybe women are. They are recognising some of the personality qualities they need to succeed in this industry, and they are learning to tell the stories they want to tell, in a way that appeal to both genders.
All in all, I don't believe that this Oscar means anything for women. It's a bone. What's more encouraging is that woman have been nominated twice in the last decade. I think we can only say it's a great day for women when this becomes a regular occurrence.