History Made At The Oscars: Kathryn Bigelow Wins Best Director

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards has made history on several fronts.

Probably the most talked about is Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first woman to claim the Best Director Oscar. And lesser known is the fact that her film “The Hurt Locker” has also distinguished itself as the lowest grossing movie to win Best Picture. With $15 million spent on its production, “The Hurt Locker” has gained back $14.7 million in its domestic gross, and a total worldwide sale of $21 million, paltry compared to Avatar’s $2.6 billion. Bravo to the Academy voters.

Another major breakthrough at Oscars 2010 is Geoffrey Fletcher winning Best Adapted Screenplay for his work “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.”  He is the first African American ever to win a screenwriting Oscar.  Let me re-direct you to an inspiring post on Geoffrey Fletcher’s win from the blog Screenwriting From Iowa.

The Celluloid Ceiling

Does Bigelow’s win signify the turning of a new page for all female directors and woman workers in the film industry? Or is it just a one-time victory? Throughout Oscar history, there have only been three other women nominated for Best Director: Lina Wertmüller for “Seven Beauties” in 1976, Jane Campion for “The Piano” in 1993; and Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation” in 2003. None of them won.  It has taken 82 Academy Awards to arrive at this point today.

The annual ‘Celluloid Ceiling’ report compiled by Dr. Martha Lauzen at the Center For the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University tracks women employed in the film industry over the years. Her 2009 study records the following findings:

  • Women comprised of 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 3% from 2001.
  • Women accounted for 7% of directors in 2009, a decrease of 2% from 2008, and no change since 1987.
  • As for behind-the-scenes employment of 2,838 individuals working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2009, women represented 2% of the cinematographers and 8% of writers.

Has Bigelow shattered the Celluloid Ceiling once and for all? The answer is yet to be seen.  Considering the gender disparity in the film industry, it remains a long and arduous journey for aspiring woman filmmakers.

But I admire Kathryn Bigelow for one thing: she downplays the gender issue and pursues the universal role of ‘director’, shunning being called a ‘female director’.  When accepting her Award, she did not even mention the history-making significance of her win but rather acknowledged the troops at war.

Of course, she won on her own merits and not on account of her gender.  So just let me help Barbra Streisand utter what is unsaid in her statement, the all important subtext:

“Well, the time has come … for us to recognize the excellent work of a director despite the fact that she is a woman.”

Bigelow, a painter turned filmmaker, was first trained at the San Francisco Art Institute and later won a scholarship for the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum in New York, “which gave her the opportunity to study and produce conceptual art that was critiqued by the likes of Richard Serra and Susan Sontag.” Later she re-directed her passion to film theory and criticism at Columbia University.

When asked about her movies not being “female”, Bigelow, gives a thought-provoking answer from the point of view of an artist [1]:

But you don’t get exasperated with this notion that your movies are not “female”?

No, because I respect it, and I understand it. The thing that’s interesting is that I come from the art world, or that’s where I was creatively, aesthetically, and intellectually formed and informed.

Certainly at the time I was there, there was never a discussion of gender per se. Like, this is a woman’s sculpture or a man’s sculpture. There was never this kind of bifurcation of particular talent. It was just looked at as the piece of work. The work had to speak for itself. And that’s still how I look at any particular work.

I think of a person as a filmmaker, not a male or female filmmaker. Or I think of them as a painter, not a male or female painter. I don’t view the world like that. Yes, we’re informed by who we are, and perhaps we’re even defined by that, but yet, the work has to speak for itself.

Hopefully the film industry can learn from the art world, such that we would never have to give a movie a gender, or stigmatize its filmmaker for being a woman.  Then we can comfortably call them all artists.


[1]  CLICK HERE to read the full interview by Willa Paskin on Slate Magazine “What Kathryn Bigelow learned from Rembrandt.

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

8 thoughts on “History Made At The Oscars: Kathryn Bigelow Wins Best Director”

  1. I enjoyed the lack of political statements at the awards this year…Maybe I missed some but it made the evening more bearable for me :0)

    You’re right about the lack of political statements, but I’m afraid they were replaced by off-color jokes and innuendos. I expected better from them.


  2. Missed the Oscars, thanks to a network vs. cable feud (there’s fuel for a future post, Arti). Cable threatened to pull the channel. Apparently, at the last minute–of course–they changed their mind, but it was too late for this household.

    I am so very glad that Bigelow took the Best Director award, and she’s correct about viewing her role as going beyond gender (perhaps that influenced her choice of subject?). But I have to confess, I thought Jane Campion had won for The Piano. Oh, well. Here’s to the snapping of the “celluoid ceiling”!


    You could catch some highlights from YouTube. The show was quite boring I felt except of course the last half hour. So, it was a good ending. Your friend, the one who said The Hurt Locker was a must-see, must be jumping for joy. Let’s just hope the celluloid ceiling will be kept open for all.


  3. Well, it’s finally happened. I remember making a comment somewhere else that’s relevant here, and I can’t find it. I know you and I were chatting about it, but… wellll… It was bound to happen eventually! So many blogs, so many discussions!

    The point I was going to make was how excited I was to see one of my convictions confirmed in the Screenwriting from Iowa blog: namely, that behind most “first-time-winners” are thousands and thousands of hours and pages. I was particularly struck by this comment: Fletcher has followed the time-honored path of every successful screenwriter I have read about– and that is he wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

    Of course, there is the little fact that he wrote and wrote for 25 years – I’m not sure I’ve got that much time left 😉 But the point is the same, and the truth is that there are many possibilties for real reward short of an Oscar or Nobel ~ or even short of a PEN, for that matter.

    …Well, now I’m back. I went into Screenwriting from Iowa and one thing led to another and now I have another blog to follow. I’m glad this entry led me over there. That is one literate, encouraging, optimistic and decent blog, made more interesting by the fact that every single location he mentions I can visualize. That’s my old stomping ground, after all. 🙂


    1. Yes Linda, I remember very well our discussion and I had you in mind when I mentioned Screenwriting From Iowa. It was on your post ‘Bowling With Ansel Adams’ that I commented about first-time screenplays getting Oscar nods, such as the current Mark Baol’s spec script for The Hurt Locker. Your reply basically pointed to what Scott was saying on his blog. It’s that very sentence that you quoted here in your comment: “… he wrote, and wrote, and wrote.” that I found so inspiring. Screenwriting From Iowa is an Emmy winning blog, interesting uh? And Scott W. Smith’s own bio just shows he knows what he’s talking about. I’d say a must-read blog for writers of any medium. Glad my humble post could point you to something great.


  4. I am pleased that your post, like Bigelow, is talking about getting above gender. Of course gender informs who we are, how we express. But people will always interpret what any artist does through their own filters. Like my poetry mentor Diane Wakoski who was followed and worshipped by the feminist crowd of the 1960s, though she never has considered herself a feminist poet.

    This reminds me of the philharmonic orchestra that first began blind auditions (I don’t remember which one started it, Philadelphia?). I just found this very interesting article (http://www.osborne-conant.org/blind.htm) about the Vienna philharmic’s three stage auditions – the first two blind, and the third the curtain is removed, allowing “the physiognomy of the applicant to be evaluated.”

    “The orchestra feels “that to the artist also belongs the person”, and that the individual’s accomplishment, and -marketability-, are determined by race and gender. They thus changed their auditions procedures so that the applicant could be seen for the final round. They also require a photo with the job application. The desire to “assure objective judgments” was set aside to maintain a special form of orchestral uniformity. The orchestra feels that people who are visibly of other races would destroy the ensemble’s image of Austrian authenticity. Not coincidentally, the Vienna Philharmonic is the only major orchestra in the world without a single non-white member.”

    Now this is very different from a female director, who is not seen physically in her film. But how extraordinary it is to consider all the things that affect art, differently for different people.


    1. Isn’t it regrettable that such blatant discrimination still exists in this now 21st C. Western Europe. I regret that even Yo Yo Ma or Anne-Sophie Mutter won’t be qualified to play for the Vienna Philharmonic due to the mismatch of their ‘physiognomy’… not that they would want to, I don’t think.

      Cut to the land of the free, where all can aspire to their dream and realize their full potential, and where, yes, even a woman can win an Oscar for directing. But no, wait, she still needs to justify her subject of choice. Kathryn Bigelow has been criticized for making macho movies to appease and appeal to the male dominated movie industry and movie-goers. Throughout her filmmaking career, she has to justify her creative endeavours, for not falling in line with expected norms of ‘female’ productions… all due to the stereotyping of ‘What women should’ and ‘What women shouldn’t”. Has any male director ever been criticized for making romance movies or ‘chick flicks’?

      Such misconstrued idea could extend to other areas as well… like… “101 Books Every Woman Should Read”


  5. Hello Arti (and others)— thanks for the “Screenwriting from Iowa” nod, link and kind words. Just as every writer needs to write and write and write, they need encouragement.

    Best wishes to everyone on their own writing.

    Welcome Scott to our forum! And thank you for writing and maintaining such an excellent blog over at Screenwriting from Iowa. I’m just amazed at your ability to post all the in-depth materials and info in such frequency. We’ve much to learn from you. Again, thanks for stopping by.



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