Kathryn Bigelow and her film The Hurt Locker are on tap to win Oscars and make history for becoming the first woman to win best director. The largest irony is that it would be for a film that is totally devoid of any significant female characters. It is a MAN’s film, a war film. But this leads to the more pressing question. The Oscars have hardly ever embraced a film about mainly women and women’s issues for Best Picture. I went back to 1966 and in 43 years (I discount Chicago because I haven’t seen it) there is only one film able to fit this criteria and that is Terms of Endearment 1983, directed by James L. Brooks, creator of Mary Tyler Moore and The Simpsons. The film came from a novel by Larry McMurtry.
Yes there is Shakespeare in Love 1998, Ordinary People 1980 and Annie Hall 1977, which all have stories centered around female leads, but they are seen through the viewpoint of other men (Annie Hall), the destructive force in family, separating father and son (Ordinary People) and having to dress up as a man and play muse to the greatest male writer in the English language (Shakespeare).
Even a pass through the more illustrious films to have won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival produces only two: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days 2007 about black market abortion in Romania and fittingly The Piano 1993, directed by Jane Champion, whose Bright Star concerning John Keats failed to garner any major nominations this year (one for Costume Design).
Male writers and storytellers have been writing about women for ages, from the Chaucer’s Wife of Bath to Joyce’s Molly Bloom, as well as rewriting the story of some – Mary Magdelene for instance, who has gone from reviled whore and sinner to possibly the best loved apostle and wife of Jesus Christ. Projections abound, perceptions, Madonna/whore (something seen in Scorsese’s most beloved films), Ingmar Bergman portrayed Liv Ullmann as the ingenuitive one and her husband as a weak, conniving husk of a human, turning bestial in Shame 1968 as they try to get through a war-torn territory. The same can be said of The Shining, though Jack gets all the good lines.
What does the male writer or storyteller owe to womenkind, if anything?
So I turn the question on myself. I write about women from a male perspective. I also write about women because I know them better (when the director Michelangelo Antonioni was asked why his films mostly concerned women, he replied because he had been intimate with them and not men), I’ve had longer discussions with them about life and how we live, they’ve let me in on some secrets. This doesn’t lend me any more authority, but I feel compelled to talk about what I am more familiar with, though women remain more mysterious to me than men (a reason Cormac McCarthy gives for not writing about them often).