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Will Kathryn Bigelow Be a Two Time Best Director Nominee?

by Melissa Silverstein
November 26, 2012 1:59 PM
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ZDT nov 26

Right after Thanksgiving Kathryn Bigelow's long awaited follow-up to her Oscar award winning film The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty (which I will see next week) started screening and the word has been extremely positive.

In a year where there are literally no other women in the running for best director the fact that Bigelow looks like to have delivered the goods again (did we have any doubt?) is a huge relief.  This movie and Bigelow will be in all the Oscar conversations this year and it will be exciting to watch what happens when a woman is in the running for her second best director honor something that has never happened before.

If you remember, one of the biggest talking points around The Hurt Locker the fact that we had the first woman to win a best director Oscar for a movie that had no women in it.  This time around the information surrounding the film is that the lead of this film is a woman, namely Jessica Chastain, playing Maya a dogged CIA who kept up the search for Bin Laden for years. 

Here's what Richard Corliss in Time says about Chastain:

As a bright young woman driven to bring down an al Qaeda terrorist, Maya shares aspects of Claire Danes’s Carrie Mathison in the Showtime series Homeland, but she lacks Carrie’s defining neuroses — or much other personal biography. What are Maya’s political beliefs? Who are her family and friends back home? Does she have a sex life? Doesn’t matter: she is her job. In a way, Maya is the CIA equivalent of Bigelow: a strong woman who has mastered a man’s game.

I'm sure that Corliss didn't mean to imply that Kathryn Bigelow doesn't have a sex life because she is a strong woman who has mastered a man's game.  And maybe by not giving Maya any sense of a back story or a life the filmmakers missed an opportunity.  But what this reminds me is that strong women are still looked at differently as if something must be missing in their lives in order for them to be this way.   No one would ever remark that a male CIA agent doesn't have a sex life because we don't see it onscreen.

And the Hollywood Reporter:

Chastain carries the film in a way she's never been asked to do before. Denied the opportunity to provide psychological and emotional details for Maya, she nonetheless creates a character that proves indelible and deeply felt. The entire cast works in a realistic vein to fine effect.

I don't think that Bigelow picked this film because it is told from a female perspective.  I think that she did this film because it was a story that she and Mark Boal wanted to tell.  And by the way, the collaboration between these two has become quite a story in itself.  They are clearly two for two with this film and look like they want to keep working together.

Here's what Corliss also said about Bigelow:

It’s a subject perfect for Bigelow. She has wrangled complex stories about cops (Blue Steel), undercover FBI agents (Point Break) and nuclear-submarine commanders (K19: The Widowmaker), in the process proving herself one of the cinema’s most inventive visual strategists and field commanders — and, in a nice way, Hollywood’s ballsiest director. Perched between the serene classicism of old Hollywood and the jittery crazy-cam of the Bourne era, Bigelow’s style is terse and assured. There’s no question which side she’s on, but she allows virtually all the characters, American and mid-Eastern, their moments of reason or sympathy. In this case she is neither prosecutor nor judge — simply the sharpest, most attentive member of the jury.

And the kicker from Corliss:

First and last, Zero Dark Thirty is a movie, and a damned fine one. Like Argo — which, with all due respect to director Ben Affleck and the film’s many admirers, ZDT blows out of the water — it dramatizes a true-life international adventure with CIA agents as the heroes. (And it takes fewer fictional liberties with the source material than Affleck did.) In the tradition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, Boal tracked down the particulars of a sensational exploit and, skipping the “non-fiction novel” stage, created an original screenplay that provides a streamlined timeline of the hunt for bin Laden. The word “docudrama” doesn’t hint at Boal’s achievement. This is movie journalism that snaps and stings, that purifies a decade’s clamor and clutter into narrative clarity, with a salutary kick.

Bigelow seems to have made a movie that fits perfectly in her wheelhouse.  An action film that tells a story with precision.  But one thing will be different this time.  She's gonna have a best actress nominee in her film.  And that is a huge and exciting difference.

First Review of Zero Dark Thirty: The Girl Who Got bin Laden (Time)

Zero Dark Thirty (Hollywood Reporter)

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  • Kate | November 27, 2012 12:52 PMReply

    This page cares more about the gender of the director than the quality of the film, I'm not saying ZDT is bad, I haven't seen it yet (I think it looks amazing), what I'm saying is that we should be praising Bigelow for making a great film and being a great director, and not emphasising how she is a woman, yes there are less woman directors than men, but I do feel that this blog is overtly about feminism and gender equality, rather than about movies.

  • Stephanie | November 28, 2012 12:07 PM

    I understand what you are saying— that pointing out the fact that Bigelow is a great woman director does not give her due credit for being a great director, alone, and may even serve to emphasize the inequality. However, Ms. Silverstein is understandably celebrating Bigelow’s accomplishments, both as a talented director and as a woman. And in this situation, there are also the additional benefits of showing a woman in a strong, political light (with Maya, the CIA agent) as well as having a great actress in a lead role (Chastain) — why would the writer choose ignore these important facts? To be fair, this section IS called “Women and Hollywood”, so I would assume that the writers would be dealing with issues of gender equality in the filmmaking industry. When the time comes that there is an equal representation of both sexes in the industry, pointing these things out will no longer be necessary. However, at this time, when historic strides are being made by women in all arenas, ignoring the fact that these achievements are, in fact, being made by women is akin to not acknowledging these accomplishments at all. Highlighting the fact that Bigelow is taking groundbreaking steps in a male dominated field does not overshadow her directing skills, but instead enhances the many facets of her success.

  • Kathy | November 26, 2012 10:58 PMReply

    I am looking forward to seeing Zero Dark Thirty. However, Corliss is a very male chauvinistic movie critic. It is misogynistic to say that a woman is ballsy. Hey, Mr. Corliss, testicles are delicate and be crushed in a minute.

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