A Feminist Guide to the 2010 Oscars

The Academy Awards are often joked about as "our" [read: women's] Superbowl. I talked with Melissa Silverstein, editor of Women and Hollywood and guru for feminist film-buffs, about what feminists should be on the lookout for this Sunday.

The Academy Awards are often joked about as “our” [read: women’s] Superbowl — and they even come with their own Monday-morning quarterbacking, with pundits deconstructing who wore what, who upset whom, and whose speech was the most gracious or ridiculous. So what’s a feminist to make of this tradition? It’s an over-hyped, bloated, and yet still ridiculously fun awards night, and this year the ceremony cast light back on a year which, conventional wisdom says, witnessed huge strides for women in male-dominated Hollywood.

I talked with Melissa Silverstein, editor of Women and Hollywood and guru for feminist film-buffs, about what feminists should be on the lookout for this Sunday.

So why is everyone saying that it’s been such an amazing year for women in film?

I don’t necessarily think it was a great year for women in film. People are trying to tell us it’s been a great year. The perception is based on the fact that that Kathryn Bigelow was nominated for an Oscar [for directing “The Hurt Locker”] and [woman-helmed British film] “An Education” was nominated for Best Picture, and “Precious” is obviously about a girl. Plus “It’s Complicated,” and “Julia and Julia” both made $100 million dollars. Several high-profile women released films this year: Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Mira Nair, Jane Campion. But only 7 percent of the top 250 films were directed by women. Also, two films that starred women were in the top 10: “Twilight: New Moon” and “The Blind Side.” That’s great, but then you look at the content of those films.

That’s why I think it’s too soon to tell. We can all judge for ourselves based on whether more women get jobs starting next week. Plus, there are only four or five women who ever release studio movies and they all released films last year, so what does that mean for this upcoming year?

Everyone’s waiting for Best Director, but what are some of the major moments for women going to be during the earlier part of the broadcast — what are the awards to look out for?

There are several women nominated for documentary feature. One thing I’ve noticed, a trend in writing and directing in the documentary category, is these pairs: a man and women. That happens a lot, especially in TV writing. One way for women to get funding and to get noticed is to partner with a guy. Only one documentary is directed by a woman herself. Three others done in partnerships. Hopefully we’ll see a woman up there. But “The Cove” is the frontrunner and that’s two guys. The Documentary short category also has female nominees, also in partnership.

As for other categories, there are two women nominated for best editing, one is in “The Hurt Locker.” One of the foreign language nominees “The Milk of Sorrow” is about women in Peru and sexual violence and that’s a woman-made film, so I’ll be watching that.

All the costume design nominees are women, which is fascinating. You realize that when you have critical mass, like in that category, gender doesn’t matter.

Only one of the writing credits is a female, out of 10. That’s just tragic.

And then come the big awards.

At the end of the show when we’re all exhausted. We’ll be waiting to see if Kathryn wins, of course, and if “The Hurt Locker” wins best picture she’ll be going up twice, because she is producer. My head will just explode!

How much has gender affected the buzz over Bigelow?

Gender is a hindrance for all women directors, but the fact  hat the momentum is, in her case, based on her work on this film, general love and support for her and her body of work over the years, the fact that she’s been an indie director, she has persevered over time, and also that she’s a woman, has set anyone a-flutter. So I think it’s actually really helping here.

It will great for people to see a woman at the highest level. Maybe girls can dream bigger. But this will just be the beginning. This is not the end. If people use a potential win to say “now women are equal because a woman has won,” then we’ll say one woman has won in 82 years. Women still struggle.

I know there’s a lot of chatter about Jane Campion being snubbed for Best Director. Are there any other women or women-oriented films we won’t be seeing up there on Sunday?

The Jane Campion snub is part of a larger issue. People talk about the beautiful cinematography for that film and her directing when they say it’s a snub. What happened with Jane Campion is that Kathryn Bigelow sucked the air out for her. Campion’s film, “Bright Star,” was seen as woman-oriented and tainted with that brush of “feminine.” That does not rate the same way as “masculine” in Hollywood.

I saw a movie earlier this year called “American Violet” that had extraordinary performances. But if you don’t have the money, you can’t be seen.

Do you think the morning-after fashion police stuff is sexist? And the red carpet?

Oh yes. There’s 17 pages in the magazines devoted to women’s dresses and two pages about tuxes and then all those awful stories about how they stop eating two weeks before the Oscars. We’re complicit. We want them to look good. But it’s  interesting this year with several nominees who don’t fit into the box of skinny white woman. There’s Mon’ique who gets a lot of guff for being who she is and wearing what she wants to wear [and not shaving her legs]. Gabourey Sidibe is fantastic, self-assured, a great role model. It’s not easy for them. It will be interesting seeing the commentators struggle with gender and size and class and race. I’m picturing Ryan Seacrest, already chortling in my head about what stupid thing he’s going to say, and hoping someone slams him for it.

What’s coming down the pipes for women next year?

I don’t see a lot of potential for another Best Director contender, but we didn’t see Kathryn Bigelow coming. There’s a possibility of people being open in a new way. Often men are seen as visionaries and auteurs while women are not. The fact that Kathryn Bigelow is in the top five now, but a year ago she was not even close shows what a difference making a strong film that resonates can make. That’s one thing about Hollywood: one day you’re nothing, next day you’re the star. So we can’t stop being vigilant. We have to keep going, keep demanding opportunities for women. We buy half the tickets, after all.