Writes Nicole LaPorte,
Perhaps in order to not dwell on the shame of [how long it has taken for a woman to win these awards], over the last few months-as Bigelow has racked up award after award, flashed her 200-watt smile at the cameras, and gracefully deflected questions about her ex-husband and Oscar rival, James Cameron-much of the talk about Bigelow has been couched in female-empowerment tones. But many in Hollywood lament all the attention focused on her gender, not only because it detracts from her merit as a candidate, but because it hints at the question that no one dares ask: If she wins, will it be because she's a woman?
LaPorte also touches on the focus on Bigelow's looks and the idea that she and her film, The Hurt Locker, are a novelty because it's a "man's movie," which she calls a "a back-handed compliment drenched in machismo that essentially boils down to: How cool is that? A chick made a dude flick!"
All valid points. Some people have acted like sexist fools, it's true. And in a fantasy world, no one would talk about her legs or her cheekbones. That said, the discourse on Bigelow has been relatively civilized, not least because of her discipline about sticking to the film's substance and avoiding any other storyline — her ex-husband, her gender, even whether the film is political. She's talked about in a way that is often specific to her gender, but on the other hand, this is Hollywood, and they love storylines. And her film is actually being taken seriously on its own merits.
The Oscar process is highly subjective and idiosyncratic, a function of how good your narrative is, or whether Hollywood thinks it's your turn, as New York's Mark Harris put it. No one even pretends it's judged on merit.
Slumdog Millionare, for example, won Best Picture for all sorts of reasons, one of which was the appeal of a condescending fairy tale about curing a slice of Third World poverty with a television game show, and another of which were some very cute kids. Crash won because... well, I cede to the great Manohla Dargis: "What the fuck?". But yes, because enough Academy voters agreed that that afterschool special of relatively high production values had said something really edgy about race. If the The Hurt Locker wins Best Picture, will it be seen along those lines as opposed to the wins along some vague notion of pure merit, like say, No Country For Old Men? (It won't be for commercial success, as in the cases of Titanic or Lord Of The Rings). Maybe, but who knows. At the end of the day, Kathryn Bigelow gets her projects funded and doesn't have to go to France to get money and control.
And though it's a commercial long shot, The Hurt Locker had already independently wowed critics on an aesthetic or even political basis, so it's hard to make the argument that Bigelow has been graded on a curve. Did Mark Boal win a screenwriting award because Kathryn Bigelow is a woman? If Jeremy Renner wins an Oscar for best actor, will it be for the same reason?
As for the "dude movie" novelty, in an ideal world Jane Campion "feminine" style would be valued as much as a war movie. But then again, Campion already won an Oscar, for screenwriting, and was nominated for Best Director. Maybe this just isn't her year.
Let's once again cede to Manohla, who is quoted in LaPorte's piece as follows:
"Does it help that she's hot? It never hurts anybody. It helps every single actor who's nominated. I think there are a lot of things that different people do to get attention. It's helped [Quentin] Tarantino in his career that he is very charming to critics. From the beginning, he's been sweet-talking critics, they love him....I don't think Kathryn should be in any way blamed for the fact that she has nice cheekbones."
Oscars' Sexist Plot Against Kathryn Bigelow [Daily Beast]
Related: The Red Carpet Campaign [NYM]
Action! Kathryn Bigelow Makes Movies That Go For The Gut [NYT]
Movie Review: The Hurt Locker [NYT]
Earlier: Woman Wins Directing Award, Men Unable To Contain Themselves
Weekend Awards Position The Hurt Locker As Oscar Favorite
James Cameron And Kathryn Bigelow Used To Be Married — Get Over It
Fuck Them: Times Critic On Hollywood, Women, And Why Romantic Comedies Suck