As we all know, Kathryn Bigelow made history as the winner of the first-ever female “Best Director” Oscar for The Hurt Locker in 2010. Three years later she’s in the news again for her exceptional work in the recently released Zero Dark Thirty (ZD30). While this is a remarkable achievement, we have to ask one question: why did it take so long for a female to win this prestigious award?
Numbers don’t lie, so let’s review. Astoundingly, women film directors have been on the scene for over 100 years, but Bigelow was only the fourth woman ever nominated in this category. The other three are: Lina Wertmüller in 1975 for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion in 1993 for The Piano, and Sofia Coppola (the first American) in 2003 for Lost in Translation.
The argument has always been that women directors are incapable of handling a male crew – a myth that Bigelow dispelled when she directed the $80 million action picture, K-19: The Widowmaker in 2002. Unfortunately, this movie (featuring superstar Harrison Ford) did not do well at the box office and nearly capsized Bigelow’s career. She did not direct another movie for five years.
But, when the $11-million war drama, The Hurt Locker, was released to rave reviews everything changed. In 2010 Bigelow won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for “Best Director” and in 2012 she won again for ZD30 – making her the first woman to win the award twice.
Any smart woman who’s ever coped with a condescending male boss will relate to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty film (the title is military lingo for the time of the raid, 12:30 am). Screenwriter Mark Boal who wrote the script for The Hurt Locker, has crafted a riveting thriller that reconstructs the discovery and demise of Osama bin Laden, (the world’s #1 most-wanted fugitive) in 2011.
The film focuses on a real-life CIA analyst, brilliantly played by Jessica Chastain in her first leading role in a movie, which boldly challenges the agency’s conventional wisdom. She refuses to believe that bin Laden is hiding out in an Afghan cave and, instead, proposes that he can be found by following couriers.
Eventually, Abu Ahmed, the elusive courier, is tracked toRawalpindi, Pakistan and a mysterious compound in Abbottabad, which is full of women and children plus one elusive man who is never seen. As the world knows now, that man was Osama bin Laden who escaped detection for 10 years.
Bigelow defends the fairness and historical accuracy of her movie and, in response to the media criticism leveled at ZD30 about its waterboarding scenes she states, “The film doesn’t judge. I wanted a boots-on-the-ground experience. Moreover, it’s a movie, not a documentary.”
Full Disclosure: We saw ZD30 on January 12 and here are my thoughts. Yes, waterboarding is harsh, BUT the actual on-screen time given to these scenes is very short. I believe that the astonishing omission of Bigelow from Oscar’s “Best Director” list – for not being sufficiently anti-waterboarding – is a major oversight.