Monday, March 8, 2010

Just Like a Woman

Kathryn Bigelow accepting her Oscar for Best Director - Click for picture credit

It's International Women's Day today (which I had never heard of until last night when I looked at my day planner, probably because its not an official holiday in the U.S.) and so, how fitting it is that on a day dedicated to celebrating the social, political, economic, and artistic achievements of women around the globe; here in the U.S., we just witnessed a woman take home a Best Directing Oscar for the very first time. Obviously, this achievement pales in signficance to those with truly resounding, large-scale impacts elsewhere, but I believe Kathryn Bigelow's win last night is far from frivolous. Its easy to get get excited when someone becomes the first to do something and even to promote and advocate for it just for novelty's sake. But I think there's so much more to this occasion than just the ability to say this marks 'a first'.

Watching the three and half hour long telecast, the prevalence of gender divisions within the film/media industry - like so many others - was more than obvious. The nominees in categories such as best screenplay, editing, sound mixing, special effects, cinemotography were predominantly male; while women's presence was visible only in the costume and makeup categories. And of course, women were most visible in the audience as beautiful, luminous, sparkling actresses. Not that there's anything wrong with being beautiful and sparkling - but it was an all-too-rare and inspiring moment to see a woman honored not for her work in front of the camera, but behind it. And yet, her movie itself was far removed from any of the politics inherent in the subject matter, a decision that allowed this story to unfold simply, beautifully, powerfully. This was not just a fantastic film by a woman director, this was a fanastic film, period.

Watching Ms. Bigelow accept her award, I couldn't help but think of how this moment had the potential to erase or at least make less visible those limitations and divisions found in the Kodak Theatre and beyond; how more women in film might  be encouraged (rather than turned away) to make movies which are not about love, fashion, and/or how to be fashionable while finding love. The significance of the moment has implications for women even beyond those in film; for the women whose stories might be shared as a result of outstanding female filmmakers like Kathryn Bigelow, and for the millions of women who might be impacted in an invariable number of ways by these films, no longer relegated to small-scale, independent, and limited distributions.

Because as we can see, the U.S. has been less than active in promoting gender equality via policy; seemingly miniature milestones like this, and their ensuing patterns are then increasingly vital. Living in a large, progressive city and working alongside an abundance of influential, talented women, my reality is often deceptive. But its not hard to see there is still a long way to go to attain equal status in the everyday spaces we occupy. While we can look at women's earnings and work/leisure ratios in comparison to men, in fact, it seems the largest and most impactful inequalities are the ones so ingrained, so commonplace, that identifying or describing them is near impossible without looking outside of our immediate scope. To be sure, the work of women and men committed to these causes is relentless and ongoing, 365 days a year. However, this one dedicated day to applaud and examine their accomplishments thus far has some useful qualities, namely, to encourage discussions on where future efforts might be directed. It is time for women's voices to be given equal weight in the spaces we inhabit, locally and globally. Whether the changes that occur are tangible or symbolic is not so important. And while I was thrilled to celebrate last night's first, I'm looking forward to the fifths, the tenths, and the twentieths.

Update: NYTimes article on the impact of Bigelow's win, and what her refusal to be an explicitly "female-director" means: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/movies/14dargis.html?ref=global-home


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