Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Was it really a great day for women?


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.

8 comments:

anthony said...

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?





Tis always a pity when women are quick to write off other women who have found some sort of success and are instead labelled as some sort of a gimmick. Yet ironically, those women that write off other women’s success, are often women who themselves are constantly fighting for equality and tend to shout loudest for women’s rights in all walks of life: When there is no success for a woman, it’s because of sexism, when there is success for a woman it’s because of reverse sexism.

I can’t quite see what is a landmark of a woman winning the Oscar except that perhaps the Hollywood big shots will now start to realise that women are capable of making certain genre’s that only men are normally considered capable of making. Surely this is a step forward? Why then is it fashionable, particularly for women, to rubbish and ridicule the whole fact the winner happens to be a female? Surely Bigelow would like to see herself as a director first and a female second.

anthony said...

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?






A point is made that the lack of female and African American Oscar nominated directors is in some way connected to sexism and racism. Well hold on a minute, how can it be surprising that most Oscar nominated directors are white males when most of the people who want to be directors in Hollywood are white males. This is not to say that racism and sexism does not exist, of course it does, but surely we must also study simple factual information; for every African American and female director, there are over 100 hundred white male directors. Who then can be surprised that most if the nominated directors are white males? Of course, racism and sexism is always a part of Hollywood and always will be, but surely it is possible to look at the positives which are as follows: more blacks have won best actor awards in the last ten years than in the entire history of Hollywood. An Asian, as was pointed out, has won a best director award. Blacks have consistently presented the award ceremony. Females have too. And now, finally now, a female has won the academy award for best director.

The problem I find with those that fight most for rights for people from their own community is that, when success does come, where the glass ceiling is broken, it’s never enough, there is always a fault, a conspiracy, a trick, an underlying thought process, a greater evil at work. Whatever happened to plain well done!

anthony said...

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.

According to sections of the blog, I sense simple sexism. There are claims that the reason for females not being a director is because females are not willing to talk bullshit like their male counterparts. There are claims that the reason men are further up the ladder than women is because they are bullshitters and exude confidence at all times. These comments are perverse, paranoid and a great insult to women at large. To suggest that women aren’t where they should be because they are not as confident as men is a great put down to your sisters and it suggests that the fight for equality, which can sometimes become blurred, has turned inside out.









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







It went on to say that behind closed doors, like in an editing suite, women excel because they don’t have to rely on their personalities. This is possibly a greater insult than the last. It makes women sound inept, incapable and irresponsible. This is not the case.

In London, female theatre directors are as busy directing as men are. It would be interesting to know why.

anthony said...

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..!






It is written that perhaps the reason for women being where they are is because the subjects they choose are not male orientated and so therefore of no interest to the public at large. Can I ask what these subjects and themes are? And can I put it forward that the particular subjects and themes are not universally loved by all people. Just like action films never win best film category, but are almost always directed by men. Or those Musicals never win best picture but are almost always directed by men. Or that Westerns (until the Unforgiven came along) never wins best picture and are always directed by men. Or that Comedies rarely or never win Best picture, yet are mostly directed by men. Or that foreign speaking films (the ones that are nominated for best picture) rarely win best picture though they are directed by men.

The point I’m making is the type of film that tends to win best picture are the same type of films: straight drama, straight drama, straight drama.

Lost in Translation is mentioned often and a point is made that it was perhaps as successful as it was because it was an old man and a beautiful young girl. It would be interesting then to hear the rationale for The Graduate, an old woman falling for a handsome young man.
Perhaps the question is, why haven’t women made a Slumdog Millionaire? Or a Departed? Or a Million Dollar Baby? Or a Lord of the Rings? Is sexism the answer? Probably part of it. But to blame it on this in the way that it seems is plain wrong. Many women directors are just not interested in this type of films as directors.

anthony said...

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.

In the final sections of the blog, it is written that perhaps the reason for more women being nominated is not that the industry is changing, but more because women are changing. Well, I can confirm that more women are in fact not being nominated (just have a look at the Oscar lists of the last twenty years) this is not due to a lack of talented women because we all know there are many talented female directors. But as suggested earlier, it’s more to do with the type of film that the majority of women make: they are just not the type that win films. Nor will I, a male, ever win an Oscar as the type of films that I make are action packed films.

anthony said...

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.







Perhaps the saddest line of all the lines.
If a female wants to win an Oscar, she must, like Bigelow, forget her sex and look to make a film that DOES win Oscar’s. At least make a film that falls into the categories that the Oscar big shots love chucking Oscar’s at. Forget the female/male divide and get on with it. Let us celebrate the win of Bigelow, rather than rubbish the win as a gimmick. If it is true that it will only be a great day when a long list of women are nominated, then surely the nomination that has broken the duck is cause to celebrate in itself – and perhaps it can kick start a list of female nominations.

I know two women who rather than yawn at Bigelow’s win; they instead felt they had the confidence and the will-power to approach directing in a different more daring way. But let’s not steer away from the fact that the majority of women simply prefer to make films like Rom-Coms, children’s films, comedies and romance. If the same amount of females are directing films as men, which is not the case, and men are always being nominated and winning, then there is a great cause for concern, and dare I sat it, a great case for sexism.

In its simplest, I can only put it like this: If females want to win an Oscar, go out and make a film that will win an Oscar.


Below is a list of films made in the last ten years which have all had women as producers.

anthony said...

Films produced by women:
Brokeback Mountain
Crash
The aviator
Bad education
Blood diamond
City of god
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Erin Brockovich
Finding Neverland
Fish Tank

Yolanda Barker said...

Anthony, no offense, but you seem to have interpreted my post as some sort of closet-feminist with an identity crisis venting her bitterness at the world. Maybe I wasn't as coherent as I'd hoped, but the whole point of my post was precisely that a person should be judged for the quality of their film, and not for the race / gender etc. And that our society is still inherently imbalanced, but that a woman winning an Oscar cannot be construed as an indication that society is changing. When it's the norm for women and people of other races to be nominated and winning, then I think we'll have made progress.

I personally don't care if Katerine is male or female - if her film deserves to win, that's fine, but I don't approve of people taking it to mean anything more than that. And incidentally, to me the Oscars do NOT generally make an award based on teh quality of the film - there is always an agenda.

Apologies for in making a broad sweeping statement about the differences between men and women (ie. men are more ballsy). Of course it is a generalisation, but it wasn't meant in a man-hating sort of way. It's a necessary quality to have if you want to succeed in this industry. Based on my own experience I've found it to be true that men have it more frequently. Possibly this is the reason it's called "having balls".

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