Women Banned from Directing the Oscar Nominated Film, The Fighter?!


Last year, a woman finally won an Oscar for Best Director. Kathryn Bigelow successfully joined the boys’ club, proudly taking home her little golden man for the film The Hurt Locker (2009), which I discuss in a previous blog entry. Last year, I chalked it up to her ability to fall in rank with the reigning champs of Oscardom. She produced a hyper-masculine war film and, in turn, was able to project a feeling of “realness” despite the film’s implausible plotline and the absurd cockiness of its protagonist. This year, the darling of the Oscars is the film The Fighter (2010), directed by David O. Russell of Three Kings (1999) and I Heart Huckabees (2004) fame. The producers had originally asked Darren Aronofsky to direct the picture, but he backed out at the last minute—evidently, he was determined to make the not-so-thrilling thriller Black Swan (2010) instead. Yet the plot thickens—at least according to Catherine Hardwicke, director of Twilight (2008) and Thirteen (2003). Hardwicke told TheWrap that she had been prevented from even getting an interview. Apparently, the decision wasn’t based on previous work, but, rather, her gender. How is it that in a time when a woman has finally won an Oscar for best director, that we are still stuck in an uphill battle for gender equity in Hollywood?

Hardwicke further discusses her experience with The Fighter in TheWrap:

“I was told it had to be directed by a man—am I crazy? It's about action, it's about boxing, so a man has to direct it…But they'll let a man direct Sex in the City or any girly movie you've ever heard of.” Bigelow’s Oscar win for a hyper-masculine, implausible war movie further proves that there is no correlation between film subject matter and gender identity. Nevertheless, The Fighter is much more than just a boxing film with some great knock out scenes. In reality, it is a film that explores family relationships, as well as survival. Above all, it is a film filled with strong female characters, two of which led to Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress for both Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. Director David O. Russell, in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air admits, “The women made the story very special to me, in combination with these brothers and their brothers’ dynamic…The women helped make the men what they were, or were so pivotal to the story.” Of course, more than helping to support the men in the story, the women stand strong on their own.

As Monika Bartyzel discusses in her column Girls on Film, Academy nominations for best direction are conspicuously absent for some of this year’s most recognized female directors. Lisa Cholodenko’s much talked about film, The Kids Are All Right (2010), has received nominations for writing, acting, and even best picture, yet nothing for direction. The same goes for Debra Granik, director of Winter’s Bone (2010), a film that the Academy also showered with nominations for everything but direction. TheWrap further sites the new edition of the annual report, The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2010 produced by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Films. Apparently, women directed only 7% of major motion pictures in 2010, which is down from only 9% in 1998. What does this mean about the world of Hollywood? It is a place where we idolize otherwise talented and intelligent women for their otherworldly, albeit expensively maintained “beauty;” an unfortunate oasis for perfectly groomed barbies guided by male-dominated direction, writing, editing, and production. 

That said, it’s hard to dismiss the incredible job that director David O. Russell has done with The Fighter. Even Catherine Hardwicke, despite her gender grievances, recognizes his work on the film. Not to mention, the amazing performances by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo. Oh yeah, and Mark Wahlberg plays protagonist Micky Ward. The film is a brainchild of Wahlberg, who grew up near the real life Micky and Dicky Ward’s neighborhood of Lowell Massachusetts. Wahlberg has always regarded Micky Ward as an inspiration, as a local legend who continues to give hope to the neighborhood kids, Wahlberg included. They’ve been friends for years. When they were looking for a director and Aronofsky backed-out, Whalberg thought of David O. Russell, someone who he had worked with in Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees. Wahlberg told Terry Gross of Fresh Air that Russell brought humor and heart to a film that they had otherwise envisioned as a dark drama.

The film itself deserves all the nominations that it has received, but I’m still left questioning how a story so rich in strong female characters, with such an interesting mix of emotional depth and aggressive fight scenes could have been banned from female direction. When will Hollywood see women as complex and multi-faceted, with just as much capability of producing a boxing film with heart as the next sensitive male? It seems that the only way to break Hollywood’s old boys’ club is to attack from within, from women like Kathryn Bigelow who are trusted to carry out the same old tropes—if they’re lucky enough to even get that far. Like real life boxing champion Micky Ward, we have to take a number of hits before we surprise them with the full body shot to the kidneys. Ok, maybe not quite. Yet as Bartyzel sites in her article, The Celluloid Ceiling Kept Catherine Hardwicke from Directing The Fighter, “A woman is more likely to hold a seat on a Fortune 500 company board (15%), serve as a member of the clergy (15%) or work as an aerospace engineer (10%) than she is to direct a Hollywood movie (7%).” Bartyzel thinks that there is something wrong with this picture, and I can’t help but agree. Until Hollywood breaks its tendency to fetishize unrealistic standards of beauty for women and, in turn, to perpetuate rigid gender stereotypes, the number of women directors in Hollywood will remain at its shockingly low percentage.

Oscars, Women's Rights