Today's Chicago Woman

The Queen of the World: An Oscar Win for International Women's Day

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The Oscars have been over for five minutes. My cheeks are flushed, there are tears in my eyes, and my stomach is doing flips. It has finally happened!

A woman has won the Academy Award for Best Direction and Best Picture. The winner is not just any woman, but Kathryn Bigelow, the amazing genre filmmaker and director of The Hurt Locker. Three other women have been nominated previously: Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano, and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation. This is a monumental achievement and a dream come true for any feminist film buff, a dream I honestly thought would never happen.
I'm going to have to let it sink in a little bit before I can fully articulate the impact I think this will have on filmmaking, but everything has changed, and is still changing, definitely for the better. Bigelow's double win (though the film itself took home six awards) deserves a double congratulations both for her hard work, perseverance, and excellent filmmaking, as well as for helping change the face of filmmakers forever. When people stupidly say "There aren't any good female directors," we can now point to this moment as solid proof they are wrong.

I wish I could be as happy for Sandra Bullock and Mo'Nique as I am for Bigelow, but I can't. Despite Sandra's excellent speech, I've never liked her as an actress because she constantly plays characters who revel in personal humiliation. Her rom-com's are the worst of the worst of female portrayals. Knowing Hollywood, she won because she was the highest grossing performer of last year, and acting had nothing to do with it. In fact, she wasn't even on the awards radar until the profits of The Blind Side were announced.

That being said, it's hard for me to be truly disappointed by her win. She beat out every dick, dick, and dick in 2009 at the box office. That's another first for last year's films, and an especially nice success for an actress over the age of forty! Here's to hoping Bullock's Oscar will open up some doors for the actress, and that she will be more inclined to accept roles in better female-driven films. (Also, I give Bullock kudos for her Razzie acceptance speech for Worst Actress in All About Steve. I think it was really tasteful.)

Mo'Nique gave the best performance imaginable in an exploitation film. I don't think Precious is a good movie and find its manipulative, over-dramatized sensibilities more offensive than torture porn. With torture porn, you at least have the courtesy of knowing exactly what you're getting into. Precious' earnest intentions come off as over-stylized drama-rama, and Mo'Nique's character in the film actually sums up the worst aspects of that movie. But, again, her win actually means more than meets the eye, as she joins the few African Americans who have won Academy Awards.

Aside from Bigelow winning Best Director, there weren't any major surprises at the ceremony this year. The problem with the awards season, in general, is that most of the excitement over films has diminished by Oscar time because every award is virtually set in stone. I adored the speeches given by Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Michael Giacchino (Up), and Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker), and I enjoyed the special speeches for each leading actor/actress nominee. Kristen Stewart and Sean Penn boarded the fail boat with their presentations, and at times, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were painful to watch, but what can you do?

The memorial gets to me every year because it always has a handful of my favorite classic actors, actresses, and filmmakers. In 2009, we lost Jennifer Jones, Jean Simmons, Betsy Blair, Karl Malden, Jack Cardiff, Eric Rohmer, Natasha Richardson, Kathryn Grayson, David Carradine, and so many more. I loved the odd tribute to horror films, which included bona fide classics like The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, and Psycho, as well as some odd balls like Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4 and Leprechaun. The John Hughes tribute was just weird.

The biggest disappointment of the evening fell to their lifetime achievement awards. Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman, and Gordon Willis all received the honor this year, but they failed to honor them properly by not airing their acceptances during the actual ceremony. If we had ten or fifteen minutes to honor John Hughes, surely we had enough time to honor the amazing work ethic, careers, and talent of Bacall, Corman, and Willis. Boo, Academy, boo.

All in all, though, I had a great time watching the Oscars this year and am still buzzing with happiness over Bigelow's win. I know change doesn't happen overnight, but I have a feeling I'm going to wake up tomorrow with a sense of feminist progress in the world. I'd like to thank the Academy for making it possible. Happy International Women's Day!

cross-posted on The Feminist Review.


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