I wrote this for a class in school and thought it would fit well into this blog.
World media outlets erupted on the night of May 2nd, 2011 as President Obama announced to the world the death of infamous international terrorist Osama Bin Laden. News that a special operation, designed to take out the guerilla ringleader, had leaked before the official press junket. Social media spread word of the alleged assassination like a firestorm. Crowds gathered outside the white house proclaiming American superiority as the man whose image had haunted them since the attacks on September 11, 2001 was screened on household flat screens nationwide. It was a moment of serendipity.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the country of Kazakhstan, an American film crew was shooting an account of the near assassination of Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2002. Directing the project was Kathryn Bigelow, the first female ever to win Best Director at the Oscars for her film “The Hurt Locker” back in 2009. Production stopped abruptly as word of the Bin Laden assassination made international headlines. Screenwriter Mark Boal, Academy Award winning writer for the same film in 2009, went immediately into research and rewriting as the story they were telling all of a sudden had a new ending.
The film is “Zero Dark Thirty.” It will be released this holiday season, a mere 18 months after the assassination. Early reviews are proclaiming it a masterpiece. The film has already won major awards from the Boston Society of Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, and Bigelow has become the front-runner for Best Director at next year’s Academy Awards. This would make her the only female to win two Best Director Oscars, and the only women still, to ever win an Oscar for directing. It is an incredible individual feat, but reflects a larger issue that most people in the business would rather stay quiet about. It is the issue of women’s roles in Hollywood. This film indicates a fast coming trend. That is, the major forces controlling the content are no longer the men, but the women. And in my opinion, Hollywood would be better off accepting it. Women deserve a more prominent role in making creative decisions on content for entertainment.
Zero Dark Thirty is significant in that the producer, the director, and the lead actor are all women. Megan Ellison, daughter of multi-billionaire software creator Larry Ellison is producing the film with her newly founded Annapurna Pictures. Her production company has recently been responsible for such films as “True Grit,” “Lawless,” “The Master,” and “Killing Them Softly.” The director is Kathryn Bigelow, and newcomer Jessica Chastain plays the film’s title role. In fact, in recent years a few films have been made that reflect this same trend. The film “We Need to Talk about Kevin,” was written and directed by Lynne Ramsey, and starred Academy Award winning actress Tilda Swinton. In 2010, the winner of Sundance Film Festival’s coveted Grand Jury Prize was “Winter’s Bone.” The film was written and directed by Debra Granik, and the film’s star was Jennifer Lawrence, playing a strong, independent young woman, raising her two siblings. In each of these films, the director made key choices involving the casting process, the writing process, and the overall production and tone of the film. These films have strong and intimate themes connected to being a woman in strenuous circumstances, but are not engrossingly feministic. The final result, excluding “Zero Dark Thirty,” are strong portraits of womanhood, told with more power and conviction than most films made by men.
But even with these women establishing their importance in the creative community of filmmakers, reaction has still been overwhelmingly sexist. After her Oscar win in 2009, a New York Times article made this point by saying, “The Hurt Locker didn’t just punch through the American movie industry’s seemingly shatterproof glass ceiling; it has also help dismantle stereotypes about what types of films women can and should direct.” In fact, before she even won the award, various journalists, critics, and bloggers were saying that if she did win, it would be because she is a woman, not because her film is good. When Barbra Streisand won the Golden Globe for best director in 1991 for her film “The Prince of Tides,” she was considered a front-runner for Best Director at the Academy Awards a few months later. But this did not happen. In an LA Times article earlier this year, it was found that Oscar voters are ¾ male and median age of 62. Project those stats in 2012 back in time to 1991, and it would be a safe assumption to make that the Academy voters were mostly old, white males then too. What is even more unfortunate is that the entire academy is only composed of 2% black voters, and 2% Latino voters. Most minority groups do not receive fair representation. In fact, in the same year Bigelow’s film was up for awards, Lee Daniels’ film “Precious,” was also considered a frontrunner to win best director and best film. That would have made Lee Daniels the first African American ever to win an Oscar for Directing. The only other black director to even be nominated for a directing Oscar was John Singleton back in 1993 for his film “Boyz in the Hood.” But that issue is an entire discussion in its own right.
But even with men dominating the industry, few strong willed women have found a voice. Silent film actress Mary Pickford, founded United Artists studio back in 1919 with Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and DW Griffith. This made her the first woman to have a prominent role in Hollywood film production. Her time was short, however, as the implementation of sound in film made her irrelevant. Martin Scorsese’s long time editor is Thelma Schoonmaker. She has edited almost all of Scorsese’s films, and has won three Oscars doing so. Nora Ephron, director of films such as “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail,” was able to have a long, productive career as a filmmaker. Steven Spielberg’s longtime producing partner Kathleen Kennedy has produced films since E.T. Recently in animation, women have found more prominent roles in their profession. Brenda Chapman and Jennifer Yuh Nelson have recently directed feature films at Pixar and DreamWorks animation studios; Chapman directed “Prince of Egypt” at DreamWorks back in 1998. The upcoming Disney film “Frozen” will be co-directed by Jennifer Lee, and a recent article from The Hollywood Reporter stated that 85% of DreamWorks Animation producers are women.
In my opinion, with the tides changing, and the influx of women coming into the industry year after year going up, we should see more films directed by women, and specifically made about women. Point of view is crucial in film, and we have already heard enough about the struggles of being a man in the 21st century. Some of my favorite filmmakers, Spielberg, Scorsese, and Fincher, make deeply personal films, and always from the male’s point of view. With Granik and Ramsey making uniquely feminine films, I think people are being exposed to content that makes them better. Watching a story from a female’s perspective should add a level of insight into the experience of others. That’s what makes film so brilliant, the chance to live someone else’s life for an hour or two.
Hollywood is trending toward women having the same prominence in filmmaking as the men. As long as women are becoming increasingly relevant in creative decision-making, it is a good thing. The goal is not necessarily dominance, but balance. A few women are guiding the way today. Kathryn Bigelow will continue to do great things with the films she makes. The stereotype that women can only direct a certain kind of film will continue to be upended. For now, Hollywood must deal with its own prejudices. Opportunity has only been given to the few lucky ones. It is important that filmmakers of a different sex, race, and cultural understanding have their work distributed to a wide audience. There are infinite stories that can and should be told. It is mandatory that we hear them.