Friday, March 12, 2010

Is One Enough?

Now that Kathryn Bigelow has a Best Director Oscar to place on her mantle, it seems everyone is talking about the glass ceiling again. Bigelow has attained the top achievement and broken through the glass ceiling.

Or has she? Consider this:

Is a proof point of one enough to declare success? Why did it take so long? And did Bigelow have to work harder for this achievement than her male peers?

Let’s contrast her Oscar win for directing Hurt Locker at the age of 58 (after 27 years making films) with her ex-husband James Cameron’s Best Director Oscar for the movie Titanic in 1997 at the age of 43.

Certainly this is a huge success, and in no way do I want to downplay that. Bigelow worked her butt off to get that award. She deserves it. But Bigelow’s success is merely a crack in the ceiling, albeit an important crack. Someone has to be first.

I think we’ll know when the glass ceiling has been shattered when the news articles are titled “Bigelow wins Best Director” instead of “Bigelow Breaks the Glass Ceiling”, or “First Female Best Director Oscar Winner”, or even “Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow is no longer just James Cameron's ex-wife”.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 82 years for another woman to win. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Only when women are CEO's for GE, GM (ha!), IBM, Microsoft, and Apple. I bet on Apple first but I would not know who that could be.

Colette said...

Wow, you're dreaming even bigger than me! I do see Apple as a progressive company, but Steve Jobs does not appear to be going anywhere for some time.

KarenG said...

Thoughtful post, Colette. The entertainment industry likes to posture as being so progressive, but they're one of the most sexist industries there is. And ageist.

Joanne Tombrakos said...

I'll share this quote I heard recently.

"There's no such thing as a glass ceiling for women. It's just a thick layer of men." Laura Liswood.

Colette said...

Joanne, you made me laugh.

You know, it's actually kind of interesting that in this case, a man was her strongest supporter. James Cameron was very vocal about supporting her for the award.

Renne Leatto said...

Asking, "Is One Enough?" makes it sound like you think we need award quotas. We don't. We need more opportunities for women directors.

My perspective comes from the fact that I am (what the media in the 1980's always called) a "woman director." We were such rare birds in those days, they always made mention of gender when they reported on us, the way children's books and articles a few decades earlier made reference to a "girl detective" or a "girl scientist."

So that said, I hope no one takes it the wrong way when I make my next point -- which is what film directors have in common with show dogs. (I should also make it clear that I love dogs more than I like most people, so this is NOT an insult of any kind).

If you watch the big dog shows, like Westminster, you might notice that a dog from a very popular breed almost always wins Best in Show. I used to wonder why that was, until an experienced show handler explained it to me: the popular breeds have many more individual dogs entered in the show, so they win more often because of the law of averages. The dogs are judged by how well each one conforms to its own breed standard so, with more golden retrievers entered overall than Pharaoh Hounds, the likelihood of finding a "perfect" golden retriever is much higher.

So, HOW MANY WOMEN direct the films and TV you watch, by percentage? I've seen various estimates from 4 to 10 percent, a small portion, regardless. That means fewer women-directed films to choose from and thus the law of averages favors the men, just like it favors golden retrievers and beagles.

Equally important is that fact that male directors tend to have more opportunities to direct more projects over the span of their careers, meaning they can improve their craft and are more likely to actually get good enough to win awards. (Look up some women directors on and you'll see that, unlike major male directors, very few of them are constantly busy directing year to year.).

Since women directors started becoming more commonplace 25 years ago, why haven't they made more in-roads into the business? I believe that many producers are still prejudiced against hiring them but, even more, I believe that few women want to subject themselves to the stress of directing.

Directing film, TV, even short videos, where you have to guide a crew of workers to make the vision in your head come out on screen is extremely stressful work. Multiply that times ten for women, because of the prejudices against them, and often the resentment of male crew members, who might have been doing their job for 20+ years and still haven't had an opportunity to direct. As Penelope Spheeris, director of Wayne's World, once said in an interview when talking about the resentment female directors often get from both producers and crews, "Sometimes I want to cry. Then I just have to laugh."

What's saddest of all is the fact that the so-called "progress" women directors have made in the last 25 years, isn't really progress at all, it's just a reversal of the regress that took place decades earlier. The first golden age of women directors came and went a long time ago. You can read more about it in this old article I wrote.

Will there be another golden age? I used to think so but, even with Ms. Bigelow's award, I'm not so sure anymore.

Colette said...

Renne, I'm really not in favor of quotas. I had intended to suggest that just because we have an example of 'one' doesn't mean we have achieved success. I agree that we need more opportunities. Thanks so much for sharing your article on the history of women film directors. It is a terrific story!