I was flattered to be asked, and although I didn't have time to do it AT ALL... I did it anyway.
Which involved recruiting one of the assistants here at Lie to Me to do off-the-books research, writing two sentences at a time between meetings and phone calls, and then a plowing through a rushed re-write at midnight when I finally got home.
Sadly, but not shockingly, when I turned it in, they didn't love it. They wanted something more fact-based and less anecdote-y. It was, they said correctly, too "bloggy."
Fortunately, in a crazy, strange, twist of fate, I HAVE A BLOG!!! So, I'm posting it here. Because I like it. And I can. So here goes:
Frankly, I’m a little annoyed by Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win.
I’ll tell you why in a minute, but first I have to tell you a story. It goes like this:
Ten years ago, my writing partner, Elizabeth Craft, and I wrote an Oz spec script. We were just beginning our career as television writers, and we knew we needed a writing sample that would show prospective employers (men) that we weren’t too soft. Too female.
Soft and female, we understood intuitively, would not serve us well.
And we were right. That Oz spec, with its copious amounts of anal rape and random acts of violence, got us our first primetime job. Eventually, it got us our dream job, on The Shield, where we stayed for three seasons. (And where, on our first day of work, we made sure to use the F-word in the writers’ room, so all the male writers would know we nice, Midwestern girls could hang.)
Strategically, writing an Oz spec was the right thing to do. (And it wasn’t just strategy— we really loved Oz.) That script kick-started what has, so far, been a pretty great career.
But here’s the problem: we also had a terrific Once & Again spec. Probably better than the Oz. Did that spec get the same kind of heat?
Nope. Not remotely.
Sadly, when it came to getting hired, our Once & Again script was, in the words of our agent, “sprayed with man-off.” It was useless in this town.
My annoyance at Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win is rooted in the man-off conundrum, which is basically this: to garner attention and respect, women in Hollywood have to act like/write like/direct like men.
Is this an absolute rule? No. (And by no, I mean pretty much yes, unless you’re Nancy Meyers, and even that’s debatable.)
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Bigelow didn’t deserve her Oscar— she certainly did. So did Randa Haines, who wasn’t even nominated for Children of a Lesser God in 1986, despite the movie’s nomination for Best Picture. And so did Niki Caro, whose 2002 film Whale Rider is still one of the most stunning pieces of artistic achievement I’ve ever seen.
A Beautiful Mind won that year. A lovely movie, sure.
But Whale Rider was better.
And don’t even get me started on how Barbra Streisand wasn’t nominated for Yentl in 1983. Seriously. I can’t talk about it. (But it has to be said—was there ever a movie more sprayed with man-off?)
For my money, the closest a woman’s come to winning a Best Director Oscar is Jane Campion in 1993— but her film, The Piano, was up against Schindler’s List, and no one in the universe was going to win against that juggernaut.
In the last eighty-two years, in fact, only four women have even been nominated in the Best Director category: Bigelow, Jane Campion, Sophia Coppola, and Lina Wertmuller. That’s four in eighty-two years. Lemme just say that again.
Four in eighty-two years.
Eighty-two years is a long time. And four is a really small number.
So forgive me for not dancing on the glass ceiling.
Because as much as I want to believe that Barbra Streisand was referring to some grand, universal shift when she opened that crisp, ivory envelope and intoned, “Well… the time has come,” really she just meant that on this one night, the time has come for this one woman. And that’s great. Truly, madly, deeply great.
But it doesn’t mean that sexism in Hollywood is dead.
It’s not even resting.
Not when what it took for a female director to finally be taken Academy-Award-Winning-Seriously was a film about men engaged in the most manly of pursuits—by which, of course, I mean war. The Hurt Locker is all testosterone, all the time, and while it’s a stunning movie, I’m not convinced it would have been nominated if it hadn’t been directed by a woman. The novelty alone gave it a level of attention that other women directors simply don’t get.
(Quick aside: When it comes to attention, it’s not just in the movie industry that women writers and directors get the short end. As recent articles in The New York Times and Women & Hollywood have noted, female playwrights and novelists don’t fare much better.)
What, after all, is the source of this attention deficit? Why is man-off spray so powerful? Most importantly, does the fact that my agent even thought of such a concept mean that I should fire him? (Just kidding, Matt. Relax.)
It’s actually quite simple. And by simple, I mean extraordinarily complex and probably impossible to solve. But it comes down to something in this arena: as a culture we don’t value stories about women as much as we value stories about men. We don’t value women’s voices as much as we value men’s voices. And until we do, it won’t really matter who’s directing, or who’s writing, or whether the person taking home the award is wearing pants or a dress.
And if saying that makes me sexist… well, I live in Hollywood.
I fit right in.
Thanks to Melissa Silverstein at Women & Hollywood for reminding me of the wonder that is Whale Rider, and to Heather Thomason for the fast, well-honed research.