First things first: Weâ€™re not jumping on the Bigelow Bandwagon here. Weâ€™ve known from the beginning. We saw the promise in The Loveless and Blue Steel and the genius in Near Dark and Strange Days, defended Point Break and K-19: The Widowmaker against detractors who saw them as nothing more than shallow pandering to the mainstream action movie market, and now watch with satisfaction the triumph of The Hurt Locker and with amusement the teapot tempest over the implications of a Best Director Oscar for Kathryn Bigelow.
The issue is whether it is more politically incorrect to honor a woman for excelling in the making of films viewed by many as fundamentally â€œwomenâ€™s moviesâ€ (say, Jane Campion) or to honor a woman (say, Kathryn Bigelow) for breaking out and excelling at making films that appeal chiefly to men. Nora Ephron sought to neutralize the dilemma in her apt comment that when you make a movie youâ€™re not a â€œwoman director,â€ youâ€™re a director. But Ephron herself doesnâ€™t make very interesting movies, and her observation may suggest why. Why shouldnâ€™t we expect a woman director to make films that are aboutâ€”or at least sensitive toâ€”a womanâ€™s point of view? Donâ€™t we expect a black, or a Turkish, or a disabled director to bring to his art the unique perspectives of his experience? Isnâ€™t that what artistsâ€”at least the best onesâ€”always do?
For too many years, itâ€™s been standard to characterize Bigelow as a maker of â€œaction movies,â€ â€œmenâ€™s movies,â€ or â€œmovies that appeal to men.â€ The growing body of critical work on Bigelowâ€™s films, however, takes a different view, one that invalidates both the Bigelow-Campion debate and Ephronâ€™s nullification. Read almost any serious study of Bigelow and you are likely to encounter the phrase â€œthe female gaze.â€ And rightly so. Bigelow is compellingly drawn to the things that make men and women different, the things that separate them. When her films focus on predominantly or exclusively male communities, they betray an interest in how the absence or rejection of women affects male behavior and consciousness.