Elevate Difference

An Oscar Win for International Women’s Day

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!

Written by: Sara Freeman, March 8th 2010

At the very least, Bigelow's film has contributed to this convo, right? Mmmmm...I think Bigelow's awards standing has been the reason we began this conversation and not the film, which cycles back to the problem I have with the film as championed a beacon for feminism; I don't think it is one. And I don't think she is a feminist director...of any wave.

Thank you for the other reading recommendations!

femspotter: No, I think Bigelow is contributing to a certain brand (pun intended) of pro-capitalist, individualist feminism (classically third wave) if she takes the view that patriarchy is an inevitability and works for her own personal gain under the auspices of what's good for one woman (i.e., wealth) is good for all women--an oft heard fallacy. (This is a big IF for me, though, b/c I don't know that much about Bigelow as a person and haven't read interviews w/ her to know where she stands ideologically, so while I'm using her in this example, I want to clarify that it's only based on the info provided in this review and the subsequent comments--and using her to exemplify my point about the detrimental effects of pro-capitalist, individualist feminism may well be off the mark.)

I try (albeit not always successfully) to see a broader scope of what it means to be an ally and try to contextualize it in consideration of a particular person's circumstance and how it can be framed/re-framed to further a pro-feminist conversation that I think is necessary and productive--like this one, for example. At the very least, Bigelow's film has contributed to this convo, right? Perhaps we could call that an indirect contribution to feminism. ;)

Zillah Eisenstein is absolutely brilliant. In addition to Sexual Decoys, I can recommend Against Empire, Global Obscenities, and Hatreds. She's a complete theorist, which sounds like something you'd be down with, but for those who read this and are put off by academia, Zillah has a way of writing theory that is accessible, engaging, and easily absorbed.

Mandy, just a clarification: are you claiming that Bigelow is not contributing to feminism because she is working in a Capitalist system that doesn't require her to give back to the feminism she has benefited from? I never thought of her lack of feminist perspective in The Hurt Locker (though I know you do see it there) as indicative of her need to function in a supply and demand economy; probably because The Hurt Locker made relatively little money at the box office anyway ($12 million, I think). Casting a big name actor, perhaps even one who epitomizes the opposite of feminism like Josh Brolin (alleged woman abuser) for instance, in order to make a buck would signal a submission to capitalism, wouldn't it? But she went with a relative unknown in the lead part.

I agree that the feminist movement may not be redeemable and I think your assessment that we are not strong allies and that's the problem is accurate. I would consider you an ally, however, and not Bigelow.

Anonymous, I am definitely going to check out that Eisenstein work. It sounds to me like identifying Bigelow as a sexual (male/female) decoy is appropriate. She confesses to going out of her way to make movies for and about men in general, perhaps not in so many words. We're not at a place where that should be acceptable to feminists because 1. it is an initiative that is allowed only because of the hard work of our fore-mothers and 2. we're not at a place where feminist perspective films are as widely celebrated as the alternative...yet.

Good lord, what a treatise!

Continued…

That said, beyond making the systems clear, we encourage others to give freely by creating an alternative example of how community and individualism can co-exist, particularly in ways that mitigate the "programming" of success/excess capitalism. Many RWOC bloggers do this right now, on- and offline. Many poor and working class people do this as a means of survival. Some progressives are doing this. We make the choice to do it ourselves (the choice is much easier than the implementation, believe me), so that we circumvent or expand or replace the current models, and by doing this, change the larger framework. At the same time, there needs to be a struggle to re-mould the current system, and while that's not where my own priority lies at the moment, it's a necessary part of change. The problem w/ traditional feminism, though, is that most of them keep living according to the system they so desperately want to change b/c they don't see the contradictions b/t what they want as individuals and what the community needs as a whole (pulling a Bigelow?), thereby reinforcing its existence--and I think this reinforcement sort of cancels out a lot of the work they're doing. (To be fair, it's quite a difficult task to see beyond one's own experience/perspective, and this is a chore in itself.) It's a conundrum of needing to lead by example where one's lifestyle and ideology is actually not exemplifying a more just alternative... or does exemplify an alternative that is more just for only a precious handful of people. So, no, silence is definitely not the solution, and I am not so arrogant as to think I unequivocally know the solution. But I do believe (hope?) that having these kinds of conversations and doing the complex work I mentioned above is a part of the solution. It's certainly where I find myself putting a substantial effort these days.

Ah, that is the trick, ain't it. And the line is fine (and subjective), indeed. :) To be honest, I'm not sure the feminist movement (by itself) is particularly redeemable at this current moment, so I think the first thing is that people who identify as feminists (and those who do the work of feminism who don't identify as feminists) have to become better allies to and advocates for people who do social justice work outside of a traditionally feminist scope (e.g., economic justice, queer rights, global issues, anti-racist work) b/c the current way of "doing feminism" that privileges gender above all else isn't working. I also think this ubiquitous "my way is the right way" black and white thinking needs to be eschewed in favor of a more complex viewing of people's particular situations. The issues aren't as simple as the vast majority of feminists seem to believe they are, and therefore, a shift in the rhetoric and action needs to take place. I think one huge place that compromise takes place is the intersection with class/capitalism, as this is so often a place of contention, and this is one area of people's lives that leads to compromise w/ patriarchy either out of a material need or out of a sort of capitalist programming of what it means to be successful that only takes into account the accumulation of monetary wealth (read: a want of $$ to live a particular lifestyle of excess, which is fraught on its own b/c then you have to answer the question 'what is excess?'). No doubt, this is hard b/c there are a lot of conflicts and personal sacrifices that economically secure women (and men) then need to make in order to privilege the needs of women (and men) of the lower classes above the want of excess of the women (and men) in middle and upper classes. And since the US is very individualistic, as a population, we're no longer wired to have a community-first (or even second or third) perspective. So, in that sense, I agree w/ you that Bigelow's approach isn't the best one for a community-centered model; however, I do think there's value in her being honest about what she's on about b/c it identifies the forces at play--even if it doesn't change them--and in a society where those systems are largely invisible, this kind of honesty provides the opportunity for feminists to make those systems (more) visible, which I think is the first step to change: identifying the problem(s). (So, I'd ask that feminists take their criticism of Bigelow one step past "she's not really a feminist" to talk about how what she says/does is, indeed, a part of pro-capitalist feminism and patriarchy.) Past that, there is the seemingly irreconcilable problem of what do you do to create change when the prizing of individualism bumps up against the needs of the community. I mean, you can't just take away Bigelow's wealth, right? You have to convince her to give it freely or else you're accused of being a (gasp!) socialist/communist. (LOL!)

To be continued…

Mandy, I appreciate your response. Now I have a question: How can the feminist movement encourage women leaders to make a feminist difference? How can we deter them from becoming gender decoys?

All of us compromise with patriarchy, but there is a fine line between playing realpolitik and selling out. How can we encourage the Bigelow's of the world to avoid a "that's just life" approach to the system?

I know several women who are discouraged with feminism because the women who have gotten the most benefits from it will turn around and trash feminists. Please don't tell us to be self-sacrificing and remain silent "for the greater good."

I wonder if a "that's just life" view of the modern patriarchy reflects a sense of resignation or is a reflection of the reality that people have to work with and in--because if it's the latter then I don't think we can say someone has "blinders" on and Bigelow's win really tells us something about how some women navigate the world in which we live, which I think is part of the point Zillah Eisenstein makes in her book. And if this is the case, the questions that follow are: how much can you fault women for bettering her own individual circumstances in this way and how can women better their individual circumstances in a way that does not reinforce a patriarchal norm?

I haven't seen The Hurt Locker yet. However, I have read interviews with Bigelow and have wondered if she is a Gender Decoy.

Zillah Eisenstein's provocative "Sexual Decoys: Gender, Race and War in Imperial Democracy" gives lots of evidence that women leaders are often expected to mask institutional sexism and actively and passively contribute to it. Essentially, they are expected to be sexual (or gender) decoys. Unlike the token woman, the gender decoy has power, but she's expected to use it to consolidate patriarchy.

Bigelow doesn't seem interested in feminism; she doesn't seem grateful for the numerous heroic sacrifices her feminist foremothers and forefathers made on her behalf; and she seems to take a "that's just life" view of our modern patriarchy.

Perhaps if the grassroots feminist movement got stronger and we compelled her to take off her blinders, she would change. But for now, I don't feel like celebrating.

True, her win was a breakthrough, but I'll drink a champagne toast when a woman director wins an Oscar for an unmistakably feminist film.

I like to chat too. :) I don't agree that 1. we all grow up with racism and 2. that race situates victimology differently. I think the Precious story could ultimately be told about any woman of any race. But incest rape resulting in pregnancy that causes one's life to change course cannot be a story told of a man.

Yes, war does have consequences for women to be sure. But I don't think The Hurt Locker addresses those consequences in any detailed or dramatic way. You're asking me huge, ideological questions. I am answering strictly with regard to the film in question. Not every film about war is about consequences of war as they affect women. And they shouldn't be. But what of the wife and children of the man with a bomb strapped to him? What of the mother of the boy whose body became a bomb? A feminist film might have asked and answered these questions. The Hurt Locker does not. That's all I'm saying. I'm not condemning the film. I just don't read it as feminism, though on an ideological level such as the one you are speaking about with questions like "Does war and unchecked masculinity in military men not have huge systemic and individual consequences for women?" the consequences for women are always there. A filmmaker can choose whether or not to acknowledge them. Bigelow did not, IMO.

BTW, I'm not trying to be a snot. I just like to chat. :)

Fem: We all grow up with racism, and race situates one's female victimization differently. It increases the likelihood that one will be a victim of violence, poverty, earlier motherhood, school dropout, HIV infection... the list goes on. These are all issues that effect women of color in a way that has as much to do with their race as with their possession of a vagina.

Does war and unchecked masculinity in military men not have huge systemic and individual consequences for women?

Mandy, I am not saying that a person experiences sex and race separately...I am saying that I read sexism as a larger problem for Precious than racism. That's my reading, as your reading of The Hurt Locker is feminist. I think her vagina has made her a rape victim, a mother of two, and thus a near school dropout, not her skin color. However, I do also read racial analysis on the part of the filmmakers but I am not really qualified to weigh in on that beyond what I've already stated. I am ignorant on so many points regarding racism. I neither grew up with it nor did I study it.

No, the absence on screen of women doesn't mean the absence of feminism...but I think there must be consequences for women for there to be feminism. Yes, I believe it means nothing that a woman directed the film in terms of the film being a feminist statement. Men make feminist films. I don't think Bigelow thought about feminism when she made it. On this point, we'll have to agree to disagree. Yes, feminism does speak to the gendered condition of men's lives, which is my entire thesis, but I just don't see the Renner character as doing things from a social pressure to be more masculine. I believe he acts out of an addiction to the adrenaline rush of war.

Does the absence of women on screen necessarily mean the absence of feminism? And does it mean nothing to have a woman as the core maker of this film? And doesn't feminism speak to the gendered condition of men's lives as well?

She necessarily relates from her identity and experience as a white woman, and I think a white man could relate to Precious as well. Not having a common identity doesn't bar one from having compassion for another. I think we all have experiences of devastation or joy that we can draw on when relating to others' experiences, even if they aren't the same experiences.

I don't race and gender are separate entities that can be dissected in the lives and experience of women of color any more than I think you can separate a queer female identity. It's an inherently blended existence--both/and not either/or.

Then how does a white woman relate to Precious' experience?

I'm a queer theorist so I am highly sensitive to gender verbiage. Sorry.

I think your interpretation is entirely valid but it's a stretch to assume feminism was intended by filmmakers when you are finding it in the absence of women. A man wrote this story - a journalist - and based it on observation. Were he observing women, he could employ a feminist perspective, but it's difficult to use feminism when women are absent and rarely discussed. The scenes written for home are entirely fabricated. The only feminist angle I get out of the lack of drama at said home is that Lilly is functioning fine without her man there to take care of her. Beyond that, I don't see feminism at work in this film. But again, I don't think it's required of a female director.

My take on the film: again I see it as a look at one man's addiction to risk and how that affects the other men in his unit. I thought the film excels when it is most tense, but I didn't buy most of the character exploration, all of which seemed - to me - contrived and wooden. I didn't think Jeremy Renner's performance exceeded mediocre; while the other two actors in his unit were outstanding, IMO. I didn't buy his connection to the young boy and his insistence on avenging him because I thought the Renner character was rather one-dimensional throughout the rest of the film. Hence, he leaves his beautiful son to go back to what he most loves: risk and possible reward.

Fem: I don't race and gender are separate entities that can be dissected in the lives and experience of women of color any more than I think you can separate a queer female identity. It's an inherently blended existence--both/and not either/or.

FemSpot: Thanks for asking for clarification. Sometimes I forget to be more specific when talking to another feminist. ;) I mean behavioral masculinity, which can of course be enacted by females, but in the context of this film is enacted by males.

I find it hard to believe that there aren't others who view The Hurt Locker as feminist, but if that's true then I'm intrigued as to why not. (Note: I don't live in the US and am not around people who follow this type of American popular culture, so I am largely left to my own devices when it comes to interpretation.) Why do you think my interpretation is a stretch? And can you tell me more about your interpretation?

Cont.

Worse than Precious itself was the ordeal of watching it with an audience full of patronizing white folk...A scene such as the hippopotamus-like teenager climbing a K-2 incline of tenement stairs to present her newborn, incest-bred baby to her unhinged virago matriarch, might have been met howls of skeptical laughter at Harlem’s Magic Johnson theater. Black audiences would surely have seen the comedy in this ludicrous, overloaded situation, whereas too many white film habitués casually enjoy it for the sense of superiority—and relief—it allows them to feel. Wow, there are so many offenses in this statement, I don't know where to begin. But I'll start with his cruel assessment of Sidibe's body as "hippopotamus-like." Does that mean he's employing the same bullshit criteria for beauty that Precious initially views herself with? She's not acceptable because she's not white and she's overweight? Yuck! But the worst offense here is his assessment (a racist one, in fact) that audiences are filled with "patronizing white folk." White people wanting to learn about blacks does not make them patronizing, but quite the opposite. And perhaps the lack of laughter which he experienced - and incidentally I did not, our white audience howled where intended by filmmakers such as in the scene when Mo'Nique dupes the social worker - came from a serious, compassionate concern rather than "superiority." How does he know that those "patronizing white folk" didn't leave his company and make charitable donations or sign up to volunteer at soup kitchens to benefit the impoverished of all races because they were so moved? He doesn't. So stick to the facts. (I hate my argument here because, for all I know, his audience was patronizing. I think that he's using Michael Moore-style manipulation to make his point rather than facts; and unfortunately the only way to fight fire is with fire.)

Spike Lee has oft made very controversial and critical assessments of Black America; Daniels is not the first. But as a feminist viewer of this film, I found race to be a less significant factor in Precious' degradation than sex. Her pregnancy and her motherhood and her education and her future are all tied to her femaleness and not her race. And it is poverty that causes her to steal making this a universal story.

Re: the White review He's entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.

He casts light-skinned actors as kind (schoolteacher Paula Patton, social worker Mariah Carey, nurse Lenny Kravitz and an actual Down syndrome child as Precious’ first-born) and dark-skinned actors as terrors. Was this intentional on the part of the director? This was a low budget film and not one to turn away celebrity appearances from Kravitz and Carey because of skin color. Celebrity appearances help poise a film for distribution. Mo'Nique is the main terror and she is not particularly dark-skinned; not compared with Sidibe.

Daniels employs the same questionable pathos as the family banquet scene at the start of Denzel Washington’s also condescending Antwone Fisher. This cheap ploy of tortured daydreaming uses black American deprivation for sentimentality. It sells materialist fantasy as a universal motivation—no wonder Perry and Winfrey like it. I believe that's the point entirely: materialist fantasy infects us all living in the American capitalist economy. As liberal as I am, I still dream of having nice things and a comfortable home.

Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious. Full of brazenly racist clichés (Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken), it is a sociological horror show. She stole the chicken because she was pregnant and hungry and had no money. Read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Hunger and poverty make criminals, not race. And just because it's fried chicken and not caviar doesn't mean the filmmakers are poking fun at black diets. Fried chicken is EVERYWHERE in America. A white impoverished girl might just as soon steal fried chicken. And Birth of a Nation didn't employ black actors but used white actors in black face. Were Precious to employ those same means, I would agree with the above statement; but Daniels went out of his way to find Sidibe owing to his commitment to portray this character as accurately as possible.

Mandy, that's interesting. I think it's a big stretch, but we all get out of cinema what we make of it. You are the first person I've encountered who referred to the film as "deeply feminist." I woudl be careful with the word "masculinity," however. Masculine and feminine are terms that mean social expectations of the sexes and not male/female. Do you mean unchecked maleness or unchecked aggression/assertiveness/strength/dominion/etc.? Women can be masculine too.

Fem Spot - I think addiction to risk (in this form) is a manifestation of unchecked masculinity, and also a product of self-loathing. I think the way women's addiction to risk tends to manifest are different: unsafe sex with multiple partners, for example. War and military culture is inherently masculine (hello essentialism!), and the absence of women in the film speaks to that. (There are, after all, comparatively very few women in the US military.) The damage to women is shown in that scene w/ Evangeline Lilly (and also in the scene where the main character is driven out of the house by a woman who we assume to be grieving the death of her son). As someone who grew up in/around military culture and whose sister is a navy wife, the role of a military wife is to be a source of support for her husband and a caretaker of the home/children. (Cue Ani DiFranco's "Roll With It") Her identity outside of that role is inconsequential and the military lifestyle reinforces this in innumerable ways. (To exemplify with my own tangential experience, my sister's email is literally HUSBANDSNAMEswife@gmail.com and this gender role expectation is one of the conflicts that led to my own parents' divorce, as my mother wasn't satisfied taking my father's identity as her own.) So, I see Lilly's character's two minutes of screen time defaulting to her husband's needs as one of the ways the film shows how the military damages women.

B - I see (and agree in many ways) with this reviewer's perspective, and perhaps I am giving Daniels and Sappho more credit than they deserve about their intentions for the film (and book), but I'm also torn because I don't think this reviewer is giving the viewers enough credit, being honest about the way stereotypes are sometimes true (e.g., fried chicken and pigs feet are consumed in the black community, esp in poor n'hoods where fast food and fried food is a staple in many people's diets for a number of social, cultural, and economic reasons) and I think the reviewer misses some very crucial points: like the fact that this (fictionalized) story does bring to the fore some really tough issues that are the reality of some POC's lives, and sometimes the things that hold people down aren't their fault (contrary to what bootstrap ideology would have us believe). I don't think the viewers/readers walk away from Precious feeling good about that reality (or, at least, they shouldn't). Precious isn't uplifted out of her dire conditions. She still has HIV. She is still a teen mother living in poverty. She is still fat (and most likely in an unhealthy way). Etc. The fantasies the character of Precious imagines are things I have heard all too often by low-income girls of color, and yes, they are self-hating. But they do exist in some of these girls' minds. The film would be dishonest if it ignored the forms of self-loathing and methods of escapism that people use to get through the day. (Is it the whole picture? No. But it's not claiming to be either. It's only claiming one perspective.) The fantasy also serves the purpose of pointing out that self-hatrid doesn't always destroy people completely, and they don't always give in to their situations, and people make due with what they have--materially and internally. And at the end of the day, making due is all that most of us can do. I think Precious does, and is intended to do, is illuminate a lot of uncomfortable issues that desperately need to be acknowledged and talked about and addressed. A film is just the beginning of a conversation; it is never the whole of the conversation in itself. It can't possibly be because what someone gets out of the film depends on what they bring to it in their viewing (another point the reviewer misses). This review is another part of that conversation ('Oh, you mean Black people aren't homogeneous? You mean Oprah and Perry may be actual flawed people instead of pristine media personalities? You mean a film might have flaws in its depiction? Whawhat?!'). This conversation that we're having is a part of the dialogue too. The things that help to open that dialogue up and push it to a point where that critical/complex thinking happens are always worthwhile, imho, whether I appreciate those things on their own or not.

@Femspotter: Thank you for the discussion! I know my statement about "solid proof" might sound arbitrary, but I've encountered people, supposed film fans, who don't believe women make good movies because they rarely win awards. Thank you for calling me out on that, though. I should have worded it better. I know women have been making movies since cinema began. I love silent cinema and revel in discovering new female filmmakers and female-driven films from every other decade as well.

We'll agree to disagree about Precious. I don't usually like Armond White's writing, but I think he hit the nail on the head with his review.

Re: Precious

This film was #2 on my top ten list of films this year. Sara mentioned Bright Star, and that was my #4. My rationale for selecting Precious (in brief) is as follows: The very fact that Director Lee Daniels had to go outside of traditional casting methods to find the right actress (Gabby Sidibe, a bright, shining beacon of realism) to portray a morbidly obese black teenager, pregnant with her own father’s second child, goes to show you that Hollywood has it all backwards when it comes to women. Not only could I not get enough of peering into Sidibe’s stunning yet stoic face, but I left the theater wishing there was another movie playing that could move me in the same way: force me to look at real women squarely in the eyes and accept us. For that’s what Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones does: she goes from looking in a mirror and seeing a white, skinny, conventionally beautiful teenager (her fantasy self) to looking in the mirror and seeing a strong, black, finally literate teenager (her real self). This film took my breath away!

The film also demonstrates how misogyny and racism often work hand in hand to hurt women. There are truths about the black, Harlem culture revealed in this story and the way the women therein are taught to (de)value themselves (i.e. the number of children you have denotes self-worth, there’s no possibility for survival/advancement beyond the welfare office, etc.) that form the backbone for a formidable thesis: illiteracy, poverty and self-hatred form a cultural cycle that is nearly impossible to break.

I completely appreciate that people found it grating. I ultimately found it uplifting; but I can completely understand it not being accessible to all viewers. I saw it with two female friends who were not uplifted. They liked Precious, but they found it ultimately depressing. I do staunchly disagree with calling it "exploitation," because that would mean that it is portraying untruths.

When people stupidly say “There aren’t any good female directors,” we can now point to this moment as solid proof they are wrong.

Sara, as someone who claims to be a film buff and a Campion fan at that, I would expect you to have been able to argue this point long ago. Bigelow has been making good films for years as have many other women; and women have long dominated the field of editing in Hollywood; we are also important to this industry in many other ways. A woman winning an award - and one that is highly political at that - does not negate the ignorant statement such as "There aren't any good female directors." That statement has been false for nearly a century and didn't just become so yesterday.

@ Mandy I think it's a deeply feminist film that speaks to the dangers of unchecked masculinity (systemic and individual), and the way it destroys people.

It's interesting you find feminism in the film. I did not. I don't see it so much about unchecked masculinity but rather unchecked addiction to risk. Certainly, that is not something that is exclusive to the male class. Additionally, I don't see how The Hurt Locker demonstrates damage to women because of what you call "unchecked masculinity." We spend all of two minutes with a female character (Evangeline Lilly), and she seems to be managing just fine without her husband, whether she's happy or not. I don't think the film needs to be feminist to be valid, I just don't see it as a contribution to feminist discourse.

Great discussion! :)

How nice to discover your blog, celebrating women achievements and endeavors. I look forward to reading along

Ah - so it's not necessarily that you thought the tribute was in and of itself weird, but that you found this particular exception strange.

Well, I think the question then is, what makes a movie important? That it is nominated? That it wins? Or that it sticks with people?

(Also, aren't Lifetime Achievement tributes often given to people who haven't won anything?)

BTW - regardless of what I think about Sandra Bullock's career, I thought she gave a wonderfully feminist acceptance speech at the Oscars and I loved her Razzie appearance. Actually, it was a landmark weekend for films as she was the first actor to win both an Oscar and a Razzie for the same year!

Mandy, my issue comes less from the actual film and the ways its been taken up as a token story by folks like Oprah who go out and say shit like "I see Precious from my limo every day." Her lack of analysis—and how that trickles down to her audience—is appalling and makes me fear that the film is, in fact, on the 'does more harm' end of the spectrum for that reason alone. When the conversation is happening in such biased, uncomfortable way, I'm concerned about how that will manifest among folks who aren't media critics or don't have certain analysis of the types of rags to riches, class jumping stories associated with producers Perry and Winfrey. Oprah (thinks she) sees an incest victim/survivor on the street corner every morning and that woman is consistently Black and low income? That's some complicated (and possibly self-loathing) shit right there.

This is perhaps the most scathing and interesting review of the film that I've read, by a man of color: http://www.nypress.com/article-20554-pride-precious.html

@B: It's hard for me to hate Precious as much as I do because I admire the story so much, but it's an incompetently made film. I almost walked out of the theatre during the annoying credits and then again during the first dream sequence. I don't know that much about Mo'Nique, but your enthusiasm for her makes me want to look into her career!

@Jen: I know John Hughes is culturally important, I just don't understand why they showcased him at the Oscars. He was never nominated for anything and lots of other great directors who have actually won Oscars didn't get that kind of treatment when they died. Is the Academy just sorry they didn't nominate him in the past?

B- Point well taken. That being said, the film and the book were created by POC who were very cognizant of the potential impact of what they were doing in telling a story that is very extreme, but a story that exists nonetheless for some women of color in the US. So the question becomes: what are the options in our current socio-historical environment and, given those options, was the creation of this film closer to the end of the spectrum of 'doing good' or closer to the end of 'doing bad'? Criticisms are inevitable (and necessary), but at the end of the day, these stories need to be told in all their flawed, grimy, uncomfortable, partial truth. Because that's what starts the conversation.

@ Femspotter: Thank you for commenting. To be honest, Jane Campion is in my top five favorite filmmakers and I think Bright Star was one of, if not the best film of last year. It's sole nomination for costume design was outrageous. I wish she had won too.

As far as Bigelow is concerned, I like her films a lot and respect that she feels more comfortable exploring masculinity than femininity. From her earliest films like The Loveless and Near Dark, it's clear that she identifies more with male characters. However, most of her films exhibit strong female characters and my personal favorite of hers, Blue Steel, is one of the best female-driven flicks of the '80s. I suggest checking that one out.

I think Precious has an amazing story behind it, but I hate the film that was made from it. I can't disassociate the two. Sorry. I don't think it's shocking so much as grating.

Bigelow's win is both well-deserved and a long-overdue recognition of women's contribution to film making.

As for the show itself - what an awkward ceremony. Martin and Baldwin usually reek of charm, but came off like some retro comedy duo. Their jokes were inappropriate (and not in an edgy way) and most of their lines fell totally, uncomfortably, flat. Next year, they should let NPH host the whole show.

I would also like to have seen better tributes to legends Bacall and Corman, but disagree that the Hughes tribute was weird. This is going to make me feel wicked middle-aged, but I cannot stress enough the impact of his films on my generation. (And now I have officially used the phrase "my generation" for the first time in my life.) The films featuring the Brat Pack were especially important, even influential. They were culturally and personally resonant in a way that can't be underestimated, and I found the footage and the speeches quite moving.

Things are definately looking up. Next thing you know, we might have women writing and directing Disney Princess Movies!

My own one-person jury is still out on Precious, despite having seen it a few weeks ago. I've read a lot of criticisms of the film by people of color, and as a white person, I feel compelled to listen to folks who say "This is offensive," rather than assume I know a good story as a white girl who went to film school. Where does reality end and filmic storytelling pick up, you know?

But regardless of what I think of the plot, adaptation, etc., I think the acting was superb and am thrilled Mo'Nique won. She's definitely had an interesting career and an unlikely trajectory (imo) to winning an Oscar. I'm pleased that she was able to showcase her skills in such a brilliant way. I also loved seeing her on the red carpet with her wholly supportive best friend/husband. During the interview I saw, she said some slightly shocking/crude things, which I found hysterical in such a stuffy, proper context. Yay Mo'Nique!

I agree w/ FemSpot on Precious. The film is certainly intended to shock the viewer, but I don't find it exploitative at all. I think it does the book justice, which is something I'm not sure I've ever said about another book-to-screen film. I also think the acting was fantastic across the board in Precious.

As for The Hurt Locker not having overtly feminist messages, I see where you're coming from, Fem Spot, and I don't agree. I think it's a deeply feminist film that speaks to the dangers of unchecked masculinity (systemic and individual), and the way it destroys people. That being said, the lack of focus on women in the film itself does continue the thematic thread of Best Picture wins being male-centric.

While I too feel some satisfaction that a woman has won the Oscar in this category, I do think that win would have been better served given to Nora Ephron, Jane Campion or another female director who contributes to feminism through messages in film. As far as I can tell, Bigelow is not a feminist and is rather a conformist, making movies for and about men most of the time. That's not to say that I didn't like her film The Hurt Locker. But where were all her new fans when she was making good movies like Blue Steel, K-19, Strange Days and more? I'd like to think that Bigelow's Oscar opens doors for women, but I fear that it does not.

And I think you are 180 degrees off on Precious. Wow! More offensive than torture porn? Exploitation film? Hardly. This is a powerful and provocative movie that showed quite a bit of restrain on the part of the director. The book describes many more offenses done to this young girl, sexual and otherwise. And if you read other urban literature, like the works of heroin addict Donald Goines, you'd see that this is the life that many people lead as told by the people who have seen it up close.

Precious is a feminist film. The Hurt Locker is not.

Of course, Bigelow isn't under any pressure to make feminist films. Perhaps that's part of the problem?

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