The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents awards in many gender neutral categories like Director and Screenwriter, but also separates Actor and Actress categories, for its Oscar nominees and winners.
Other awards programs include The Man Booker Prize for Fiction (without reference to gender), and the Orange Prize for Fiction, for “excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world.”
Kathryn Bigelow won the first Academy Award ever presented to a female director, for her outstanding Best Picture winner, “The Hurt Locker.”
In her Huffington Post entry, Vivian Norris de Montaigu relates the story of fifteen years ago inviting Bigelow to joining the board of a Women in Cinema Film Festival (which later became part of the larger Seattle International film festival).
“Ms. Bigelow turned us down, politely, asserting the fact that she was a filmmaker, period. Not a female filmmaker, but a filmmaker full stop.
“She was right to do so. She is a visionary, and was putting on the screen stories and symbols which will go down in cinematic history as being classics. And she did it first. Not first as a woman, first as a filmmaker. The Academy took its sweet time to honor her with an Oscar.
“But she always knew who she was, and what she was capable of, and never ever gave up. She has a huge amount of integrity as a filmmaker.” [“Kathryn Bigelow: Filmmaker” on huffingtonpost.com]
In an interview about her work as writer-director of Blue Steel (1989), Bigelow noted,
“If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies.”
“It’s irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don’t. There should be more women directing; I think there’s just not the awareness that it’s really possible. It is.” [tech.mit.edu]
In another article she commented, “I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about what my aptitude is, and I really think it’s to explore and push the medium. It’s not about breaking gender roles or genre traditions.” [“Kathryn Bigelow: Road Warrior” by Jennie Yabroff, Newsweek]
In a backstage interview about winning an Oscar, a reporter noted she had been reluctant to call herself a female director, and asked, “Are you ready to say that now at this historic moment?” Bigelow replied, “First of all, I hope I’m the first of many. And of course I’d love to just think of myself as a filmmaker, and I wait for the day when the modifier can be a moot point.
“But I’m very grateful if I can inspire some young, intrepid, tenacious male or female filmmakers and make them feel that the impossible is possible,” she added. [“Bigelow Backstage: ‘Don’t Give Up'” by Steve Pond, thewrap.com]
Writer Patti Greco asked her, “You’re considered one of the few female directors who can make a suspenseful, “masculine” movie like this. How do you respond to that?
“A filmmaker is a filmmaker.”
“I tend not to look through a lens that is bifurcated in respect to gender or anything. But if what I do can serve for one person—let’s say I can be a kind of role model for other women directors to prove that if you’re tenacious enough, you can achieve what you have in your sights—then I’m proud to carry that mantle.
“When any film gets made it’s a bit of a miracle. Certainly a film with substance. It’s perhaps partially the sheer tenacity of the core filmmaking team and not gender-specific. Personally I don’t take ‘no’ well. I think that’s part of it.”
[“Kathryn Bigelow: An Interview With the Historic Oscar Winner,” MORE magazine more.com]
Bigelow has commented about what motivated her choice of investing so much of her time and talent in making “The Hurt Locker”: “War’s dirty little secret is that some men love it. I’m trying to unpack why…” (imdb.com)
Her movie “Zero Dark Thirty” is the story of the hunt for and killing of Osama bin Laden.
Does it matter that Bigelow disdains being called a “woman director” rather than simply a director? Is this just trivial quibbling with a label?
Of course, the context matters, but labels as used in mass media and elsewhere can impact identity, both in terms of how others think of individuals and groups, and how we think of ourselves: our self concept, quality of self regard, even what we think is possible to pursue and accomplish.
Some reporters have made comments with a tone of surprise or something, such as: “Bigelow proves a woman director can make a taut action movie matching any male director.”
Doesn’t that sound a bit too close to “She plays baseball pretty good, for a girl”?
Here are some other posts with perspectives of several other filmmakers who happen to be women:
By the way, those articles are on my Women and Talent site – which I started years ago, but am no longer keeping active, choosing instead to post about creative women on my other sites such as The Creative Mind and The Inner Actor.
What do you think? Are gender labels of art and artists appropriate or helpful – or not?