B is for ‘The Bigelow Effect’

"If you hold a mirror up to society, and you don't like what you see, you can't fault the mirror. It's a mirror." Kathryn Bigelow

Let’s go back to a simpler time: Oscar Season, 2010. It was nail-biting year for women filmmakers everywhere as we awaited to see history being made. Kathryn Bigelow was nominated for Best Director with her war film THE HURT LOCKER. Could she win? Should she win? What would it mean for women filmmakers present and future?

Fast forward to today: Oscar Season, 2012. Bigelow won the Oscar and the progress two years later is…slim to none. The ballots don’t lie. If you look at this year’s nominees, you might actually think her win was all some wonderful dream.

2011 Best Director Noms

  • Darren Aronofsky “Black Swan”
  • David O. Russell “The Fighter”
  • Tom Hooper “The King’s Speech”
  • David Fincher “The Social Network”
  • Joel and Ethan Coen “True Grit”

2012 Best Director Noms

  • Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
  • Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
  • Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
  • Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
  • Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”

This “Bigelow Effect” of one woman changing the game for the rest of us is so very flawed. For one, it’s similar to the savior complex put on activists like Martin Luther King Jr. The idea that one person is responsible for the success of a future generation totally ignores all of the people involved working their asses off in that same movement. I speculate there are many reasons why she won the Oscar that night. Bigelow had a strong film career prior to HURT LOCKER and perhaps the Academy finally felt she’d paid her dues. Maybe it’s because she made a war movie. Or because she’s a talented woman with a strong film career who made a well-executed piece of cinema that happened to be about the Iraq War. Does it really matter? At the end of the day, only the Academy knows why they helped make history that night.

What does matter is that 2 YEARS have gone by without a single female name on the Achievement in Directing nominee list. This is a problem. For the past year, I’ve seen too many articles restating the obvious. Hollywood is an old White boy’s club. If you didn’t see Saturday’ L.A. Times inside peek at the Academy members, stop and READ IT NOW (“Oscar voters overwhelmingly white, male”). This is really the state of things, folks. The number of women, people of color, LGBT and international film professionals with power in this industry are small. This business was never built on an even playing field. However, this post is not about beating a dead horse. Short of starting a petition to the Academy for a Achievement in Female Directing, I want to know what I as an emerging young Black female filmmaker can do to stop blaming the “mirror”.

See women’s films in theaters- Another simple request, right? I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw that limited release YOUNG ADULT was playing at my small-town multiplex. So I went to see it in a real theater with my best female friend. Our paltry $18 may not turn heads with studio execs but you better believe I’ve told every person I’ve met since that they need to see this movie. I did the same thing with BRIDESMAIDS and I WILL FOLLOW last year. As Ava DuVernay (director of I WILL FOLLOW & MIDDLE OF NOWHERE) said in her latest interview with Black Enterprise Magazine, “…buying a ticket. That’s how you help the next woman make her film.” It’s not enough to just see a film because there’s a woman on the poster. Find out who’s behind the camera and what HER name is. We have to champion our celluloid sisters with our dollars. That’s how box office politics work. If you think you don’t have an impact, check out my earlier post: Audience Demographics (His versus Hers).

Build female key production teams- Women filmmakers need to hire other women. It’s not reverse sexism, it’s just a basic necessity. I saw it all the time in college. My male counterparts would instantly assemble into “triads of power” with all-male director, DP and producer teams. Where did that leave the rest of the girls in my class? For my senior thesis, my creative team had a female director of photography and a female producer. It was absolutely the best outcome for the production. I truly enjoy working on predominantly female sets, but that’s not always the case. Filmmaking is an arduous enough process, but making a film about a little girl’s fairytale alongside male peers creating zombie flicks gave me a small taste of what lies ahead in my career. My passion project would not have come to life without these two strong talented women on my team, who were each willing to stand up for the project (and sometimes even us) because they knew how high the stakes were. Is it really that radical of an idea to seek out talented female key production teams? I see it already with director/producer duo Dee Rees and Nekisa Cooper (PARIAH). College is small potatoes in comparison to Hollywood, but if we can’t support each other when we’re starting out, how can we expect to have allies in the big leagues? If there’s a guy better for a job on your film, bring him on, no question. But I’ve got to believe that there are many talented female out there with the potential to helm some groundbreaking films.

Make that fourth feature- As I heard countless times, it is a near miracle for a filmmaker to make a memorable first feature film. However, I don’t think we really have any idea just how difficult it is for women (especially women of color) to build a body of work. For example, as I scrolled through filmographies of the Black woman filmmakers I know and love, I noticed everything kind of came to a halt after their third film. I don’t have enough fingers to count what the reasons may be. Children? Marriage? Financing? Industry politics? LIFE? Longevity in this industry is key. It’s really the auteurs who can afford to have six-year gaps on their IMDB.com pages. Emerging women don’t have that luxury. You have to go big the first time, everytime. So the question is: how do you see your career? I’m all in favor for a new model for today’s women filmmakers. Think of it in the fashion of classic Spike Lee and game-changer Ava Duvernay, in which our collection of films show progression as a skilled storytellers AND are released one after the other (2-3 year gap max) with fierce marketing.

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5 thoughts on “B is for ‘The Bigelow Effect’

  1. revjonflores says:

    I love that one of your tags is “old white men.” You should track down Cheryl Dunye for an interview sometime. I don’t know if you’d consider her an auteur yet or not, but she does have a fair body of work.

    When’s your first feature going into production??? 🙂

  2. […] Don’t forget how the production duo of writer/dir Dee Rees and producer Nekisa Cooper inspired us during Oscar’s best male director debacle: (read here) […]

  3. […] support network for women filmmakers. I mused about this right around Oscar time in January (read here) and I’ll now adapt a film festival version of my call to […]

  4. […] support network for women filmmakers. I mulled about this right around Oscar time in January (read here) and I’ll now adapt a film festival version of my call to […]


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