Earlier this year “The Hurt Locker” helmer Kathryn Bigelow made history by becoming the first woman ever to win the Oscar for Best Director. In the lead-up to that momentous occasion, Bigelow appeared to grow more and more uncomfortable about making this distinction, generally appearing to argue that it shouldn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, black or white, American or foreign.
While this is generally true, it doesn’t stop movie fans, critics and bloggers alike from entering into these kinds of discussion for months on end for the sole purpose of crunching the numbers and making conversation. So, let’s go there.
It’s been discussed ad nauseum before, but to recap: Over the illustrious 80-odd year history of the Academy Awards, only three other women had ever been nominated for Best Director: Lina Wertmuller (“Seven Beauties,” 1976), Jane Campion (“The Piano,”1993) and Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation,” 2003). Kathryn Bigelow’s breakthrough was an achievement, whether such a distinction is politically correct or not, and nobody could have been blamed for making a big song and dance about it at the time.
And not only was Bigelow the eventual winner for a film that many would argue would still have garnered its director the prize regardless of gender, but the 2009 Oscars was flush with women directors in serious contention, or at least at some point in the race seriously part of the discussion as contenders for the nomination, including Nora Ephron (“Julie & Julia”), Jane Campion (“Bright Star”) and Lone Scherfig (“An Education”).
But far from being the start of a new trend in independent and studio filmmaking where female directors are perhaps taken more seriously and are more welcomed by industry as significant (if not equal) contributors to the world of film, it appears that the 2009 Oscars was a one-off fluke when looking over the slate of contenders for the current Oscar season.
By my count, only one female director has even a slight hope for an Oscar nomination next year: Lisa Cholodenko for “The Kids Are Alright,” which in itself is a serious contender for Best Picture in the expanded 10-film category. However, Cholodenko faces an uphill battle in Best Director against heavy hitters such as David Fincher (“The Social Network”) and hot new faces such as Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”). Even more of a long shot are two recent festival favorites (one of whom also being Oscar royalty) in Sofia Coppola (“Somewhere”) and Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”).
It seems as though Bigelow’s triumph was the start of something that is going to be a much slower progression, rather than a breakthrough catalyst of an explosion of female directors that are given the opportunity to direct Oscar-caliber films. Time will tell, and perhaps this year is not necessarily representative of what is to come, but it sure isn’t very promising.
— Rob Licuria