zerodark15

Uppity Women: How Maya and Kathryn Bigelow Continue to Threaten the Status Quo

The New York Film Critics Circle Awards

“A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

If you want to win an Oscar for Best Picture now, make an old fashioned Hollywood movie.  But make sure it is easy on the eye, entertaining and not too challenging.  Don’t let there be any controversy attached to it. And never remind us of the complexities in human nature. Focus on the positive. People are good. People do good things. Isn’t the world a nice place to be?  On the flipside there’s Zero Dark Thirty, which has to be judged on its own merits as a film.  The facts about the torture — whether it happened, whether it didn’t — can be had at a different time. What we have before us is a work of art.

Zero Dark Thirty was so upsetting it seemed to go even beyond the torture debate. I began to wonder, would people have been so personally pissed off if the director of Zero Dark Thirty had been a man? Moreover, if the lead character had been played by George Clooney do you think it would have changed anything? Would the movie be less threatening? Would sticking to the status quo have enabled people to fall in line and accept it?  Would the critics have rushed to give it their top prizes to begin with but then abandon it just as fast when the water got too high?

I want to look at the state of things in American film, but specifically the Oscar race.  The ongoing disparity between films by and about men compared with those by and about women is worth discussing.  What is it about us in 2012 that makes us so desperately want to cling to the past? We love Mad Men because women and men were divided into power positions.  We watch Peggy take a little climb upwards but for the most part women can’t really go very far because the men rule that world.  Even Downton Abbey is a show about a time when the power of women was limited. It is the brilliance of that show, and of Mad Men actually, that they write female characters who are powerful beyond the roles society and culture assigns them. And yet, I can’t help but wonder why we have such a hard time adjusting to change?

The one film in the Best Picture race with a lead female, directed by a woman, has now been ejected from the winner’s circle completely.  There was no pity party thrown for Bigelow — oh sure, a few critics and bloggers kicked up a fuss but there were no awards given out after the torture controversy hit.  Zero Dark Thirty started the race winning the New York Film Critics award for Best Film then won in Chicago and then at some point it just stopped winning anything.  Even the Critics Choice, where it was supposed to win the major awards (they’re supposed to be CRITICS) couldn’t even manage to give it an award for Original Screenplay. It got only won Best Actress and Editing.  It did not win a single National Society of Film Critics award.  They seem to split two ways — snooty critics went for Amour and populist critics went for Argo.  Zero Dark Thirty? Did it even happen?

Before Ben Affleck became the cause du jour for not doing what Bigelow did, not claiming to be “history” but rather, just making a fun, funny movie about a fake movie, Bigelow was the one director that seemed like a lock.  I remember predicting her and having someone say “are you sure about Bigelow?” And I said, she’s a lock. Once the film starting winning I was glad I’d been right about that but now I look back on that exchange and I think, hmm.  You have to go all the way back to 2002 to find a director whose film won the New York Film Critics but didn’t get nominated at the Oscars and that was Todd Haynes with Far From Heaven.

Digging deeper, I find that almost all of the films up this for celebration are movies that are male-driven.  One of the reasons I love Lincoln as I do is that, even though it’s a film that takes place in 1865, Kushner and Spielberg give Mary Lincoln a full spectrum of human emotions, much to the annoyance of Fanboy Nation who like their women fuckable and off to the side.  A famous historical figure dealing with bi-polar Mary’s personal traumas were among the many burdens Lincoln carried.  The relationship is beautifully wrought in Lincoln and provides 2012 one of its best female performances. The other film that busts out of convention is Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild which gives over the entire film to the inner life of a small girl.  The film is about what happens inside her.  When was the last time you saw that in any Oscar movie?

Last year, the only film that had female characters with something to do other than decide which end she wants the dick placed in was The Help. That film, naturally, brought with it much of the same controversy Zero Dark Thirty is receiving. Boy, was The Help threatening all the way around. So much so that, even though it made $150 million and had a large mixed race cast, it was nominated for just four Oscars. The rest of the BP nominees were all about men.

Zero Dark Thirty represents a revolutionary idea — a woman who doesn’t need any man to come in and rescue her.  Moreover, she’s the ball buster in the room. She’s the one who says it’s time to put the pressure on (a reminder that I am looking at the film as art and not debating torture) and she’s the one who sticks to her guns when the men want to turn tail and run.  We spend much of the time on Maya’s face, watching her thought processes as she works it out, as she zeros in on her target.

At the end of the day, no one really knows what to do with this character. We prefer movies where the men fix everything because that’s what we’re used to, that supposedly controls the box office, that is the status quo that has been choking the life out of modern Hollywood.  What do we do when a whole movie is about the internal life of a female character that isn’t a positive experience?  By the end of Zero Dark Thirty Maya has done her job and done it well, as she had been trained to do by the CIA but that doesn’t mean she’s happy. There are no knights in shining armor to rescue her. She doesn’t get a pat on the back and a gold star.  She doesn’t right the wrongs of our society. She suffers silently, alone, with nowhere to put her own torment.

Mark Boal wrote the character as a woman to make the point that in America women aren’t treated the way they are in the fundamentalist Muslim sects we’re at war with.  In fact, there are two women in the film who are each in charge. This is something you saw back in the 1970s and in the 1980s even but you never see now. Women are meant to be wives and girlfriends but not singular protagonists.

The shame about Zero Dark Thirty, and even The Help, is that the controversies surrounding them might mean that movies like that don’t get made again.  It is not our job to seek perfection in art; it is the artists job to seek their own perfection.  The critics should not have abandoned Zero Dark Thirty for the safer choice because of the controversy. Either the movie is a brilliant work of art or it isn’t.

If Maya had been less sure of herself, like, say, Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs who learned much from and was sort of pushed along by the men in her life, Hannibal Lecter among them, would there still be the same kind of agitation?   Is it that old theory that men don’t trust women behind the wheel? Do none of us trust women behind the wheel?

Zero Dark Thirty is threatening in many ways that have nothing to do with torture. It is quietly the only film in the Oscar race by a woman and about a woman. Yes, the screenplay was written by a man but the uniqueness of the Bigelow/Chastain collaboration should not be discounted, particularly when we are in the rut we’ve been in for the past two years, where the majority of movies that land in the Oscar race are by and about men featuring men doing great things and women being subdued and supportive in the background.  It feels like the 1950s all over again — except for back then movies like All About Eve were winning Best Picture.

Bigelow herself is threatening.  After Twitter Asshat Bret Easton Ellis put out the “Kathryn Bigelow is overrated because she’s pretty” nonsense, then tried to retract it, it was obvious that Bigelow would be judged differently simply because she was a woman. But I think we can be sure that if, say, Clint Eastwood or Jim Cameron had directed Zero Dark Thirty the controversy would have been minimized.  Face it, we’re used to men being the smart ones, men being in charge.   One of the great things about last year’s winner, The Artist, was that Peppy was a character in her own right. Sure, the film was really about the guy’s inner world but Peppy was the successful one.  She rescued him.  In Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence is also the rescuer but she doesn’t seem to have anything else on her mind except him.  That appears to be the way so many of the younger generations, at least the ones I read on Twitter, want things to be – that is how they see strong women.

I am heartened by the way my 14-year-old daughter and her friends talk about gender roles in the media.  They recognize that there’s a problem.  I hope they become uppity women because without uppity women the world would be a very boring place. “Well behaved women seldom make history.”

Not enough is celebrated about what Zero Dark Thirty is, how it’s a tiny revolution that may slightly alter the landscape of American film and the Oscar race.  The invisibility of women is not a concern in Europe and other countries that showcase at Cannes.  This is an American problem.  Hats off to the filmmakers who remembered that 50% of the population in America are female and we’re not letting go of our power any time soon.   Spielberg’s Lincoln, Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild and most importantly, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty.

I watched Bigelow take the heat and respond with cool prowess, just as Hillary Clinton faced down Senate inquisitors with firm assurance when she was grilled at the Benghazi hearings.  If I were arguing the point of history and torture I would have different things to say but we are still dwelling in the world of art, and in that world Bigelow is a quietly defiant hero.  Whether Zero Dark Thirty or Beasts of the Southern Wild or even Lincoln win a damned Oscar or not is really beside the point. You can’t really beat back popular opinion. But the saving grace in this mishegoss is that we have these works of art for all time. They are worth more than a gold statue, which is really like the Maltese Falcon when you get right down to it — a futile pursuit.

So here’s to you, Kathryn Bigelow, and you, Mark Boal for doing the impossible — delivering a strong onscreen female who really is just interested in the work.  Some might think the “feminist dream” of a woman who can say, “I’m not the girl who fucks” is a nightmarish stereotype, but that’s only because they’ve never lived inside the body of a woman who really does just want to work, to make her voice matter, to do everything a man can do and maybe sometimes do it better.

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108 Comments

  1. Aragorn
    January 29, 2013

    Sasha,

    I will respectfully disagree with you on this subject. I think the controversy was over the torture and its depiction. I dont think having a male character or director would have changed it much.

    But I think one difference would be the handling of criticisms and attacks. Somehow I feel that Bigelow was left alone in this controversy. We didnt see anyone, no one from her studio/distributor or her peers came to her defense. I dont think it is about her gender though. SHe has been quite an independent filmmakers that was not part of any major circle (I could be wrong in this as I am not an insider over there)!

    I bet if this had happened to Clooney or someone else like him, or even Sofia Coppola, their studios and peers/friends would have went to their defense. Sometimes I feel that Jessica Chastain was the only person who tried to defend Bigelow in various talks ahows etc.

  2. CB
    January 29, 2013

    I agree with some of this article but disagree with other bits. I agree that ZD30 would not be getting the negative attention it has gotten and the controversy with it were the director and star a man. But I also believe it would not be getting the awards buzz and consideration it had gotten were its director not a woman. (I also think Mark Boal wouldn’t be along for the ride either.) This may sound misogynistic but it’s what I believe. Kathryn Bigelow’s direction was in no ways exemplary or singular or exceptional – it was competent, typical, with the artistic finesse of a fine television director. Kathryn Bigelow has now made two very conventionally masculine military/espionage films and there is a kind of novelty (that is very unfair, but exists) to the fact that a woman is making these films. I’m a young man and consider myself a feminist, so the novelty isn’t there for me. But for most men 45 and older, I’m guessing there is a novelty to it, and one that Bigelow has capitalized on. There’s a reason Jane Campion wasn’t nominated for Bright Star in 2009 and Bigelow was nominated for Hurt Locker. (I personally think Bright Star was a masterpiece and Hurt Locker was so-so, but that’s just me.)

    I really don’t think that Bigelow is being persecuted here, or that the male hierarchy is deliberately walling her out in this case. I think the reason Affleck is getting more love after his ‘snub’ is because his film, simply put, is better. It’s better told, better acted, and better directed. You disagree, but many do not.

    But I want to get back to your point that were ZD30 a male director/actor combo it wouldn’t have gotten the same press. I think here you actually reveal what I’ve long thought about ZD30′s lack of character: that the sex of Maya is almost arbitrary. There’s nothing in her character that really makes her a character. Sure, Jessica Chastain (brilliant in Tree of Life) is expressive and does some good things with the flimsy material Boal gives her, but she’s not a woman or a man or a person. And yes, I know she’s CIA through and through, that she is her job, etc. Still, there’s nothing interesting in the words she’s given or the way she does things. She’s not a character. She’s only ‘uppity’ when she tells Leon Panetta she’s the motherfucker who’s after bin Laden, which was one of the most cringe-worthy and impossible moments from the movie (also ‘I’m gonna fucking kill bin Laden’ was pretty awful too).

    I agree with a lot of your macro arguments but I don’t think they apply to this particular movie. I think they apply to movies like Bright Star.

  3. Aragorn
    January 29, 2013

    And pleaseeeee…I dont want to even think about the possibility that Eastwood or Cameron directed ZDT. Especially the former one. It would have been a very machoistic, ethnocentric, patriotic nonsense that wouldnt have had anything common with the current movie.

    Again, maybe I saw it on its limited release opening day, before all this controversy, I watched the movie with an open mind and I really enjoyed it. As I said then and still continue to believe so, some of the torture scenes were a bit unnecessary for my own taste. But again, who am I? I thought it was Bigelow’s artistic choice to have those scenes to tell the story in the way she wanted it.

  4. Keeley
    January 29, 2013

    I don’t know, I wasn’t really impressed with Zero Dark Thirty but the last scene, the Osama hunt scene was brilliant. Do agree that Katherine Bigelow should have been nominated for best director just for that scene.

  5. Thomas
    January 29, 2013

    I will have to give you much kuddos for writing this article on your wondering why no one seems to be behind Zero Darky Thirty, posing the question is it because it was directed by a woman? The answer is “no.” This controvery came to George Clooney in 2005 with Syrianna where he won for his acting ability, but was nominated for a less controvsial film in the Directing and Screenplay Categories for Good Night, Good Luck. So posing the question if George Clooney was involved perhaps it will be winning more awards and receiving more support? Sadly, I really cannot see that happening. The fact of the matter on why the movie is not receiving the support Argo is receiving is because Ben Affleck has come behind with a very appealing movie and is a contender that has not won an Academy Award since his win in March 1998 for Screenplay. On the other hand, Kathryn Bigalow has won two Academy Awards in 2009 and they just so happen to be the two biggest awards of the evening. What is really being said here, by the academy, is it is too soon to honor the first female dirctor they have already honored. They see it has she was already given the award once, and less than 5 years ago. A comparison that can be equally seen with Tom Hooper with Les Meserable, who won in 2010. One thing is very clear with the academy is they are very stengy with their awards. Personally, this coming Oscar telecast will more than likely be full of surprises as this has been a very unusual full of surprises awards season. Really anything could happen.

  6. CB
    January 29, 2013

    To clarify, what I meant was that if it were directed and starring a man, it would’ve ONLY gotten negative press for its pro-torture agenda and ignored for its supposed ‘artistic’ merits, of which I’ve long claimed it has little. In a way, the nuance and novelty of Bigelow’s being a woman somewhat keeps it as seen as a piece of art and not just as a jingoistic and manipulative movie (as Aragorn points out).

  7. Doddi Jonsson
    January 29, 2013

    Why does the issue of Zero Dark Thirty have to be gender-related? Why are you so upset about the possibillity that Argo might win?

    My opinion is this: ZDT wouldn’t have excited me any more or less if there was a man in the lead role. The flatness of the main character is just annoying to me and Maya being a woman makes no difference. I am all for gender equality and I do think it is sad that so few women have been awarded for directing. But I won’t buy into “let’s award Bigelow because she is a woman” either. I simply look at the film and judge it like that. Yes, you think ZDT should win but apparently there are more people that think other films are worthier of the title “best film of the year” at the Oscars.

    At imdb.com Django Unchained scores the highest mark (8,7) while Zero Dark Thirty has the lowest (of the nine nominees) (7,7). I’m not gonna claim that the imdb marks are any proof of the quality of films but it does show something.

    In your world, is it not possible that maybe Zero Dark Thirty won’t win because the voting people actually think other films are better? If Lincoln wins, would you celebrate more (than if Argo wins)?

    I have often wondered about the Oscars and fairness, but Zero Dark Thirty is not a victim of views/opinions, more than other films.

    A film that dares to be different, a film that is safe and funny and heartwarming, a film that is violent and bloody, a film that is beautiful, a film that is arrogant … etc. – why should any category here be worthier than another? You mention that Argo is crowd pleasing and “safe” … (don’t remember the exact word, but you hopefully know what I mean) … why should that be a mark down for a film??? To me, there is nothing exciting about ZDT and I personally cannot understand the love for the film, but I admit the film is different! Different doesn’t always mean better.

    “Not enough is celebrated about what Zero Dark Thirty is…” — well, I strongly disagree. It has been celebrated enough.

  8. Lauren
    January 29, 2013

    I was getting ready to write a post about this for my own blog. Especially that people seem to be preferring Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in Silver Linings Playbook to Chastain’s in Zero Dark Thirty, because Lawrence’s performance is more “emotional”. So apparently not only do viewers not want women in the driver’s seat, but they want them to be emotional.

    And yes, I could argue all day about how Chastain’s performance is just as emotional, although in a different way than Lawrence’s.

  9. Sasha Stone
    January 29, 2013

    This controvery came to George Clooney in 2005 with Syrianna where he won for his acting ability, but was nominated for a less controvsial film in the Directing and Screenplay Categories for Good Night, Good Luck

    My point is that because she’s a woman she WON’T win. Obviously Mr. Hollywood is a man.

  10. Sasha Stone
    January 29, 2013

    will respectfully disagree with you on this subject. I think the controversy was over the torture and its depiction. I dont think having a male character or director would have changed it much.

    I respectfully ask you to really think about that. There’s a reason why the majority of Hollywood films are directed by men and are about men. There is fundamental distrust in the idea of a woman in charge. Just look at the creepy psychos like Rand Paul treated Hillary Clinton compared to how they treat John Kerry. Do you think they would have given a hoot if Kerry had been in charge?

  11. KT
    January 29, 2013

    I’m upset NO ONE in Hollywood has come out and defended Kathryn Bigelow. And utterly appalled that Sony Pictures didn’t fight harder for this film and let its awards campaign die. Amy Pascal did not protect his film. The Sony team screwed Social Network, and now they screwed Zero Dark Thirty this year. Great job!

    Yes, I think Jessica Chastain is the only one who has come out in her awards speeches praising Bigelow. When people like Martin Sheen came out and criticized the film—does he forget his own involvement with a controversial war film, one Apocalypse Now???—and no one in Hollywood stood up for the directorial achievement which is Zero Dark Thirty, I knew its awards chances were unfortunately dead. What an industry of hypocrites. Then, to see the industry, SAG actors award Jennifer Lawrence after what Jessica Chastain said at the Golden Globes, of fighting hard to be an actor and the huge opportunity to play a SINGULAR FEMALE ROLE, unparalleled in recent years…I’m beyond aggravated. I fear that this film will walk away emptyhanded in four weeks, but I’m encouraged that in the years to come it will be seen as a landmark film. Thank you for your piece, Sasha, and for standing up for Kathryn Bigelow, an inspiring filmmaker for both MEN and WOMEN.

  12. Val
    January 29, 2013

    I have to agree and disagree. The film is getting attention because of the controversy and frankly that would be happening if Bigelow were or we’re not directing. Look at Michael Moores films and the controversy he’s driven through his films. But I also have to say while ZD30 is a fine film, I don’t think the average male director wuld have gotten the same amount of buzz. And if Maya was Michael played by let’s say, Joel Edgerton, I doubt any acting Oscar nomination would have been given. Chastain is solid but nothing special in terms of the character.Maya is simply a plot device.

    I want to ask you though why don’t you ask Bigelow and Boal why they chose to write Jennifer Ehle’s character the way they did, basically as second to Maya and as a failure. We all know who her character was based on and it’s frankly an insult to Jennifer Matthews who by the way was infact responsible for capturing Al Qaeda’s second in command, who lost her life, to so carelessly depict her than way. And frankly if that’s the intelligence they decided to use from the CIA shame on them. Even former CIA agents have been critical of how she was written.

    Its a good film but frankly not as good as the press seems to want the audience to see it as. The Hurt Locker was a much better film. And the best thing about ZD30 was not Chastain it was Bigelows direction. The only award the movie was justifiably snubbed for.

  13. Unlikely hood
    January 29, 2013

    I don’t have time to properly respond but basically Sasha is right.

    It all gets back to Silence of the Lambs so I’m glad she brought it up.

    My first book (published by Palgrave) comes out this summer – more on that another time. My second book is going to be “From Wandering to Squandering: Baby Boomers on Film.” I could say a lot more, but basically boomers’ favorite films since the 90s have featured a highly educates man whose talents have been forcefully put out to pasture – but then someone needs them for something. The archetype was Hannibal and Clarice; oh you’ve locked me up and treated me like an animal but now you need me do you? The favorite films featured YEARS of forced squandering – silence, shawshank, cast away, even pulp fiction (vega has come back from years in exile). There are MANY more.

    King’s Speech and Artist were along these lines. Rejected, left for dead. Argo is not quite the same although we get the sense that people haven’t trusted Mendez for a while.

    But yeah, if ZDT had been about Clooney and everyone in the film wrote him off for a few years – heck yeah, it would be more likely to win BP. Sure.

  14. CB
    January 29, 2013

    Just look at the creepy psychos like Rand Paul treated Hillary Clinton compared to how they treat John Kerry. Do you think they would have given a hoot if Kerry had been in charge?

    I happen to be not only a big politics fan but a major Hillary supporter from way back. To address this metaphor, I think Rand Paul telling Hillary he’d fire her was his way of boosting the notion that he could someday be president, because he has 2016 aspirations. It was a cheap shot that made him look like a jackass, but yes, I think it’s the kind of thing he would say to a man.

    But I also think that Hillary getting misty-eyed and tearing up on the stand (and before the 2008 NH primary) can only be excused, or only be seen as acceptable, because she’s a woman. Remember Ed Muskie in 1972? He ‘teared up’ (claimed it was snowflakes but still) and it ended his presidential campaign. So yes, there is no gender-neutrality, and the argument isn’t to say women have it easier, not at all, but that in some contexts it works.

    As I modified my point later, I think Bigelow’s being a woman actually helps keep ZD30 looked at not just as a piece of pro-torture badly written false history. (Yes, false history, because the film open saying it’s based on real events.) Had it been directed by a man, it would not be being looked at with awards buzz. I genuinely believe this. It is far from an exceptional movie and is blatantly pro-torture. And a lot of this I blame on the script, by a man. But the fact that it is directed by the only Oscar-winning woman who seems to keep this movie a matter of debate rather than a fixed thing. What I’m saying is that because she’s a woman it adds depth to the discussion of a (at least for me, and many others) cut-and-dry pro-torture-written, unexceptionally-directed movie.

  15. Alec
    January 29, 2013

    I don’t think Rand Paul would have been as tough on Kerry as he was on Clinton because Kerry has no shot at ever being a presidential candidate again. Hilary does and that scares the whole Republican party. Of course, part of that definitely is because of Hilary’s gender.

    I don’t think ZD30 was abandoned because of Bigelow being a woman(or Maya being a female lead). I think it was abandoned because of the political controversy and I am not sure having a male director changes that. I do think more famous directors(like the ones you mentioned) would get the benefit of the doubt and that is probably the biggest crime here. Bigelow, despite being an Oscar Winner, is not famous in that sense. It took a controversy for her to get on the cover of Time Magazine, as opposed to being on the cover for directing a great film. It is the dangerous side of directing a movie that is still so politically and culturally relevant. The people picking apart Lincoln for not portraying him as a racist or showing enough scenes dealing with slavery could affect that film’s(directed by a man) chances.

  16. Mohammed
    January 29, 2013

    Let me get this out of the way: Bigelow has an Oscar because she’s a woman. She isn’t, has never been, and probably will never be on the same league as James Cameron who shouldn’t have lost in 2009. She has had her pitty party for making a film that wouldn’t have had a second look if a man had directed it.

    A sidenote: Lincoln lovers keep bringing up the question of which film will leave a mark that people will remember. If ever there was such a film in the past few years doing exactly that; leaving an imprint that’s still visible , it’s Avatar. One can argue about everything else, but no one can deny that it has changed the movie industry. Had a woman made it it would’ve won the Oscar and everything in between.

    Regarding ZD30; What’s the point of bringing it up and then sidestep one of THE main issues it’s where it is now ?

    It is sad that Denis came out with WHITE MATERIAL the same year The Hurt Locker come out. One is an examination of identity and history, the other an action film.

  17. Kane
    January 29, 2013

    Sasha, QT got heat for the violence shown in Django. There will always be controversial movies. ZDT happened to be directed by a woman and it’s more hot topic than any other film at the moment.

    Regarding your Rand Paul and the way he treated Hillary Clinton comment, this has nothing to do with her gender. It’s just politics. Just like when Joe Biden came across very smug during his debate with Paul Ryan, it’s just politics. For the most part I like Clinto a lot, however the whole Benghazi situation is just as hot topic as ZDT and there was bound to be some passion getting out of hand. Not every female politician goes through what Thatcher did in The Iron Lady.

  18. JP, Esquire
    January 29, 2013

    Taking gender out of the equation, the problem with Zero Dark Thirty as a work of art is that it (in my opinion, of course), an above-average, though not great film. There seems to be a strong disconnect between critics and average moviegoers. It has high scores on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, yet most people I talk to who have seen it found it dull and overly-procedural, despite the great final sequence. I share this opinion to a degree. At times it felt like an extended episode of NCIS. Entertaining and well-crafted, but not mind-blowing.

    Bigelow ran into a wall of problems. First, she won only a few years ago for a similar, superior film. Second, there was the odd controversy. I say odd because many accuse the film of being pro-torture and factually inaccurate in that regard, yet a number of conservatives I spoke with who saw it accused Bigelow of wanting the audience to sympathize with the terrorists. The fact that Bigelow is a woman MAY have heightened these issues, though it’s hard to say for certain. Sasha makes an eloquent case that it does. None of this excuses the studios for failing to defend this movie. Hell, they financed it. It’s performing well at the BO. Stand behind it.

    Jessica Chastain have an award worthy performance. She made Maya compelling and interesting even though there wasn’t much material to work with. That’s the other big criticism I’ve heard about this movie. ZERO character development whatsoever.

    Looking at the wider picture, Sasha raises interesting points about the state of the American film industry, mainly a big question of mine: Why are there so few female film directors to begin with. Females are rising to positions of power in a number of industries. The number of female CEO’s is rising. The number of female judges is on the rise at the state and federal level. I worked for a judge who is an extraordinary woman. The number of females in elective office is rising. There are a number of great female theater directors. Why do so few women direct films?

  19. Kane
    January 29, 2013

    Should’ve finished my initial thought, ZDT would most definitely have gained as much controversy if it were directed by a man. Reason being, politicians would never want to admit, acknowledge or even consider that torture could have led to the end of the greatest manhunt in history. Nobody wants to believe that, maybe, we had to become a monster to catch a monster. Politicians aren’t even focusing on her gender, they’re focusing on the torture scenes. They’re also going after Boal and all the producers.

  20. Bob Burns
    January 29, 2013

    ask Jane Wagner.

    silly question. I do blame Boal, though. The Academy got it backwards.

    Boal stepped into one of the bitterest arguments of the past decade. If Nelson Mandela had done something similar people would still scream about the fuck-up…. and rightly so.

  21. rufussondheim
    January 29, 2013

    I am here singing in the choir, “Go Sasha, Go Sasha!”

    Sadly, I don’t know any other songs.

    But now as the torture controversy fades, I hope people will see the film for what it is, and that’s genius.

  22. Aragorn
    January 29, 2013

    Sasha,

    Even though a few others already gave the same response I would have given (was out for lunch), I will repeat the same thing as it was directed to me.

    Yes Hillary got that kind of treatment from Paul just because she is already considered as a frontrunner for 2016 Democratic party nomination. So it was an attempt to hurt her even before the race started. I also believe that if it was a different Sec. of State , he/she wouldnt have come to give that kind of account in front of the Commission. Not because of gender but because of the possibility of running in 2016. Oh well. 2016 will be the first elections where I will be able to vote as an US citizen and I really hope that I will vote for Hillary:)

  23. Jason B
    January 29, 2013

    “Is it that old theory that men don’t trust women behind the wheel? Do none of us trust women behind the wheel?”

    @Sasha, the film showed two stubborn women ruthless pursuit of a singular goal while disregarding those whose innocent and military lives they were putting at risk and/or killed as result of. Had they been men, I’m not sure how many people would be claiming they are challenging the status quo. In fact, many would be criticizing their actions as male machismo a la Clint Eastwood.

    I understand that Boal was creating a (undeveloped) parallel characterization of these two so that perhaps we could see a potential fate for Maya. No matter if its a man or woman, it was a dumb move to violate protocol. One of which Maya would have likely done, given the chance. And these are our only two portrayals of women in the film.

    I personally found the film to reenforce gender stereotypes. Not only do we get the “b*tch that has to overcompensate to compete with men” archetype that Hillary Clinton had to shake off in 2008, but it also makes all the men around her look (by comparison) rational and calm (Maya doesn’t make the most convincing case why she should ignore urgent bomb threats and direct resources to finding UBL while having a meltdown in a hallway).

    However, the one unique aspect of the film is that the structure suggests she’ll lose this battle and not find Bin Laden – as the film was originally scripted – but real events changed that. I wonder what public perception would have been in that event.

    Now, none of those characterizations of Maya necessarily makes it a bad film (there’s other reasons for that) or sexist, but I’d hardly call it a progressive or beneficial portrait of women in film. Nor would I claim its challenging the status quo – unless we’ve reverted back to 1991. Had it been a better film, the though of it being a female or a male would not have crossed our minds.

    And perhaps it should. Perhaps we should linger and comment about how Maya and Kathryn Bigelow are challenging or not challenging the status quo, ignoring the overall quality of the film in the process.

  24. Khan
    January 29, 2013

    in my opinion, ZD30 is an average film and Kathryn Bigelow is an over-rated director. Nothing to do with her being a woman.

  25. January 29, 2013

    Reading these comments, I wonder how many of the commenters are male. Judging by their given names, it looks like plenty.

    The problem with a lot of sexists is that they don’t even realise that they’re sexist. The same is true of every prejudice.

  26. comedywontwin
    January 29, 2013

    Sasha, great article for sure, you pointed out lots of good and factual points here….I love it. Also, if you remember The Hours a story about women, won the Globe but lost the oscar to a film about the power of lawyers men. Far From Heaven, you mentioned another example of snubbing the director when dealing with human sexuality, they think it’s wrong to portray some men in the closet and gay, this is not welcomed by hollywood folks aka BrokeBack Mountain, the worst snub in the oscar history.

    As for zero dark thirty, if it was about CIA male agent like Clooney, hell even if it was Tom Cruise who is not appreciated by hollywood….if he was the main charactor in that movie, him and the movie would win the oscar and becomes the frontrunner from the get go.

    The lesson is if you get a good script and oscar worthy about a woman, just replce the charactor with a male role, and you will win critics awards and Oscar.

  27. marlonbrando020
    January 29, 2013

    “Mark Boal wrote the character as a woman” — but isn’t it already based on a woman?

  28. CB
    January 29, 2013

    The problem with a lot of sexists is that they don’t even realise that they’re sexist. The same is true of every prejudice.

    Paddy, there’s literally no way anyone can argue with what you just said, not just because it isn’t untrue, but because it’s impossible for someone like me to say, “I’m not sexist but Bigelow blah blah blah.” You raised a rhetorical argument, and whoever raises the rhetorical argument wins it.

    Those of us who don’t like ZD30, who think it’s only considered awards-worthy because Bigelow is a woman directing a conventional “mannish” movie (as she did for the Hurt Locker), and who think that Sasha’s opinion on it is out of a misreading of what’s really going on, probably don’t consider ourselves sexist. I certainly don’t. I’m not sexist because I think Bigelow has coasted the novelty of making unexceptional action movies to Oscar glory. I’m just reading the trends how I do. Same as my belief that Obama beat Hillary BECAUSE of misogyny and the fact that progressives who didn’t want to vote for a woman found an excuse by voting for a minority candidate. This is just my interpretation of how Bigelow won last time.

    Mohommed was right – Cameron deserved the Oscar in 2009 for creating a much more incredible and transformative and influential and affecting cinematic experience. I don’t think that because he’s a man and so am I – I think that because that’s how both films compare in my mind.

  29. Cyrus
    January 29, 2013

    Great piece Sasha!

    To say that the movie and the director wouldn’t have been treated differently if it was a male director or male star is BS.

    I am sorry but sadly to this day the world is sexist and unfortunately the Academy has been as well.

    This piece reminded me of a different incidents that show how sexist we are.

    Remember when Hilary was running against Obama. The news media ripped her to shreds and this because finally a woman of power had a voice and threatened to take the highest power in office.

    Another incident my friends and I were talking about was regarding two terribly bad movies. One was the Brown Bunny where Chloe Sevigny performs oral sex on the lead star and another the Broken Tower where James Franco does the same. Poor Chloe Sevigny was ripped to shreds in the headlines, yet we heard nothing when a man did the same.

    Sadly it is a two way street and if you deny this you are quite blind to the fact.

    I loved Zero Dark Thirty and think it is one of the best films of the year and so true, why no woe parties for Ms. Bigelow who directed the hell out of her movie while Affleck’s film is not director driven.

    Another thing that also upset me was when Jessica Chastain accepted her award at the Golden Globes, she gave a brilliant remark about women and film and defying gender roles and it received practically ZERO APPLAUSE. I think that speaks volumes for itself. I was cheering when she said that, yet Hollywood sits silent.

    Thank you Sasha for bring this piece, well done !

  30. comedywontwin
    January 29, 2013

    Sasha, you also forgot to mention this, and this is a trend that, even female actresses who are likable and loved by hollywood like Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Barbra Striesand, etc…they root for male making movies and lead the campaign for them so they get a boost for their movies to win….so even big female stars cooperate with the campaign for movies abut men, and I haven’t seen them do the same to boost a movie about women, which is sad.

  31. Kane
    January 29, 2013

    Paddy, I think it means that there are a lot of people out there who aren’t afraid of a healthy debate. Just because some people don’t entirely agree with Sasha’s point of view doesn’t make us sexist. That reminds me of a time I stated my dislike for a plan Obama had and I was called a racist. The way I view things are that I don’t pay attention to Bigelow’s gender. It’s not until Sasha brings it up, among other pertinent issues and rightly so, that I even think of her gender about possibly being an issue or a milestone. I also went to film school with plenty of women and even dated a film major, so I’ve been exposed to plenty of talented females. I don’t know, maybe the west coast is different. Scratch that, I’m sure it is. But I doubt that a handful of people on here (with “male” names) are sexist without knowing they’re sexist.

  32. Koleś
    January 29, 2013

    “snooty critics went for Amour”

    Now that’s just not fair. That’s a really low blow.

  33. rufussondheim
    January 29, 2013

    Having spent a good portion of my life thinking about identity politics, Paddy, I agree with you and will go one step further. Many women won’t even support Sasha here simply because they’ve accepted the gender roles assigned to them by the male elite.

    Sasha may overstate her case here, but I am fine with that. It raises discussion and allows for people to process all points of view. While people may not adapt Sasha’s philosophy, it is in their heads and maybe next time (should there be one) it will be just a little bit easier for Sasha (or someone else) to persuade.

  34. drake
    January 29, 2013

    change the record… I respect this issue is a huge passion for you sasha (seemingly much more than movies, actually) but i’m just providing some feedback as someone who visits AD daily- i’m sick of reading about it.

  35. January 29, 2013

    change the record… I respect this issue is a huge passion for you sasha (seemingly much more than movies, actually) but i’m just providing some feedback as someone who visits AD daily

    drake, you should get one of those computer mouse devices.

    That way you can move around from page to page on the internet all by yourself like a big boy, without demanding that we spoon feed you a special diet of just the stuff you want to see.

  36. JJ
    January 29, 2013

    There she is: the more fascinating and better performed female character in Zero Dark Thirty – Jessica, played by Jennifer Ehle.

    Sorry, she did a lot more for me than Maya, who just kind of stood around and watched – like Princess Leia at the end of Star Wars.

    KABAM.

  37. Aragorn
    January 29, 2013

    Ryan,

    Sometimes i really like your creativity when it comes to your bitchy, snappy responses;)))

  38. Kayla
    January 29, 2013

    I know people are pissed that Jennifer Lawrence might win for playing a “supporting” role in Silver Linings but the fact is that Jennifer gave a more charismatic and interesting performance in those few scenes in the film than Jessica did in the whole movie. I’m sick of the double standard here. I’m all for feminism and strong female characters but Maya was a damn boring character who did nothing in the film. And what is the strong emotions you guys are taking about because all I saw was a growing face throughout the film.

  39. Kane
    January 29, 2013

    Oh, and if people are still wondering why there aren’t many female filmmakers, look to the 2013 Sundance slate for US Competition. That’s pretty remarkable in my book. Again, there are plenty of female filmmakers out there. Whether their work gets picked up or chosen over the others is an entirely different story.

  40. January 29, 2013

    I’m not calling anyone sexist. I’m just contributing to that healthy debate.

    she did a lot more for me than Maya, who just kind of stood around and watched – like Princess Leia at the end of Star Wars.

    Yeah Maya did fuck all! Nothing! Lazy bitch!

    Remember when people initially compared Maya to Carrie Mathison in Homeland? Just because both are intelligent, determined women working at the CIA. Their characters could hardly be more different, yet that’s not what mattered to most people. Most just saw ‘Woman + works at CIA = seen this before!’

  41. Koleś
    January 29, 2013

    “That way you can move around from page to page on the internet all by yourself like a big boy, without demanding that we spoon feed you a special diet of just the stuff you want to see.”

    This is actually something that the Editors of Awards Daily ought to hear. Don’t demand the Oscars to feed you a special diet of just the awards you want to see.

  42. January 29, 2013

    Great, thought-provoking piece, Sasha and something I’ve been screaming about for weeks (but only to friends I’m certain I’ve alienated). And Paddy is right as well. God forbid the men commenting should actually reflect on the possibility before typing back defensively.

    ZDT will be remembered as a milestone in American cinema. It’s great filmmaking. And yes, that is my opinion–which I am entitled to.

    Bigelow has dared to present our recent history in a not-so favorable light. Usually it take Hollywood a few decades to reflect on our country’s mistakes. Had say James Cameron (who I am a huge fan of) done the same–there is no way he would be taken to task the way Bigelow has been.

    Just like Hillary–How dare that bitch…

  43. Kane
    January 29, 2013

    Paddy, then my apologies. Shouldn’t have been defensive.

    I believe upon an initial look it wasn’t too difficult to compare Maya with Carrie, however I don’t believe it’s solely because their women in the CIA. It’s partly because their women in the CIA, but also because they’re searching for a terrorist and are incredibly laser focused in their work. Carrie is much more unhinged and Maya teeters to that point when she goes off on Kyle Chandler, however I know she was mentally stable, just frustrated. I find it a compliment to compare Maya to Carrie, and Maya to Clarice Starling for that matter. Of course people will want Maya to be wholly original and organic but truly, comparing her to those other amazing characters means she’s in good company.

  44. January 29, 2013

    I find it a compliment to compare Maya to Carrie, and Maya to Clarice Starling for that matter.

    No doubt that they’re all strong, memorable characters, but it’s the fact that people complained that Maya was little more than a copy of Carrie that irks me. People don’t do this with male CIA agents in film and TV, just women. It’s only when male characters are extremely similar that they would draw comparisons, or complain as they did with Maya a few weeks ago. It’s indicative, I think, of the inability of many cultural commentators to regard female characters as having any more complex characteristics than just ‘being female’.

  45. Jason B
    January 29, 2013

    It’s quite remarkable the amount of gender stereotypes and prejudice people are directing toward those who did not like Zero Dark Thirty here. Apparently when a female director is involved, it’s not a choice to dislike a film – as one can do with any male director – without being a sexist.

    Boal had a stronger script in The Hurt Locker and perhaps the last minute re-writes to update the film caused much of the sloppiness and inconsistencies I saw progress between the opening and closing scenes.

    The cinematography was good, though. Didn’t dig how the raid was shot (it seemed an odd tonal and perspective shift too late in the film), but the rest of the film looked like many modern war photographs.

    But I guess because I preferred Amour over ZD30, I’m a snooty sexist Euro-socialist and not a true feminist Patriot.

  46. Scott
    January 29, 2013

    Very insightful article Sasha. I finally get why I keep reading negative stuff on this site regarding Sally Field’s performance, a perf I thought was nuanced and layered. I felt that Spielberg gave her a real gift with that role for each of her scenes displayed another facet to the character.

    Mary Lincoln is not compliant or cute and fuckable or a victim (unless you consider that women of that time did not even have the right to vote) and who knows if she can sing. She’s a fighter and downright prickly without being shrewish and I guess that’s hard for some to swallow but it’s what I truly appreciated about the role and performance.

  47. steve50
    January 29, 2013

    “but I’d hardly call it a progressive or beneficial portrait of women in film.”

    I would say that it is beyond just progressive and beneficial with respect to anchoring a major Hollywood film. Maya may not be as rare a character as some might think out in the real world, but on the big screen she joins only a handful of women characters that are presented without the usual girly-girl trappings we have come to take for granted in movies. It would have been so easy to do this, yet Bigelow avoided it – because it had no part in the story.

    I don’t know if this scares the hell out of the audience, or just throws them off-balance. Maya, Clarice, Lisbeth Salander and only a few others have made it to the screen because, like the glass ceilings that exist in the corporate world, audiences have installed something similar in the cinematic world. And, just like fear of failure is the base reasoning behind keeping the ceiling in the real world, it is the fear of box office failure that keeps our cinematic females in check.

    If you ask anybody which character they “liked” more this year, Tiffany (SLP) or Maya, you know without stopping to think what the answer is. Why did you respond that way?

    But zero that question in on which did you “respect” more, which did you “trust” more, which did you “admire” more, and the responses will start to disperse more evenly.

    The sassy, brassy, flawed, and sexually-oriented female defines our primary comfort zone for women onscreen. It has been that way since somebody had the genius idea to create the first whore-with-the-heart-of-gold and the box office responded. It keeps the gender roles straight and nobody feels threatened – men are secure in their fantasies and, more important, women are secure in theirs in that there is no pressure of expectation to exceed beyond what is portrayed. Sure, you get the odd Miranda Priestly-type character to make you think change is afoot, but just look at her. This is an example of one who made her way to the top through the ranks, not in spite of.

    Rufus nailed it above: “Many women won’t even support Sasha here simply because they’ve accepted the gender roles assigned to them by the male elite.” The portrait of Maya in Zero Dark Thirty is special, as was the creation of Lisbeth. These types of character still have a rough road ahead, though, before they are accepted on both sides of the gender gap.

    Sasha – never let up on this one.

  48. mdbDuke
    January 29, 2013

    I think 2010 really spooked the critics. They were all over the map last year, and this year they jumped ship as soon as controversy started to swirl around ZD30. Rather than trying to influence the race, they have returned to their old game of trying to predict the race. I think it’s a shame, but I can’t blame them. They all rallied around TSN, speaking eloquently of its merits and lavishing it with awards, and, in the end, Harvey beat them all.

  49. CB
    January 29, 2013

    The difference between Clarice Starling and Maya is that Clarice Starling *is* a character. And over the course of the movie, we come to learn an enormous amount about her past, about her weaknesses, and about her ‘agent’ facade masking the kind of woman she is underneath. She is a woman, in a way that Maya is not a woman, or even a person – just a tired-faced one-track-minded ghost. Torture can’t get under Maya’s skin. When someone she’s close to (from work) dies, she pounds her fist and says, “I’m gonna fucking kill bin Laden!” like she’s Dirty Harry. Only at the end do we get a bit of contrived nuance – what will she do/be now? Okay, fine.

    One thing that gets to me is this idea of ‘strong female characters’. Since when did a good female character have to exhibit strength? Some fantastic female characters are not strong – just like many fantastic male characters. I wouldn’t call Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler strong; I wouldn’t call Aileen Wournos strong. But those are damn good roles that exhibit something more important than strength: humanity. And humanity is much more crucial to good storytelling, and good examples for others, than strength.

    I don’t think women need characters like Maya. I don’t think men need characters like James Bond. I think we all need interesting, multi-layered, flawed, weak, and fascinating characters. Kate Winslet’s character in Little Children is much more ‘feminist’ than Maya (and not just because of the Bovary allusions) – she’s flawed yet forgivable, and she shows that women are deep and complex and fascinating.

  50. rufussondheim
    January 29, 2013

    I don’t think the character of Maya is particularly meant to be fully fleshed out, she’s meant to be a bit of a cypher. The audience is intended to fill in those details (or at least as many as they need to).

    Maya is not meant to be defined by her past, but by her actions. And I find that to be quite exciting as a viewer.

  51. January 29, 2013

    She is a woman, in a way that Maya is not a woman, or even a person – just a tired-faced one-track-minded ghost. Torture can’t get under Maya’s skin. When someone she’s close to (from work) dies, she pounds her fist and says, “I’m gonna fucking kill bin Laden!” like she’s Dirty Harry.

    But that is her character. That is her life. That’s the point! The fact that torture doesn’t get under her skin (I’d dispute that anyway) would be one very distinguishing feature of her personality. We don’t learn about her past nor her weaknesses because she doesn’t divulge them. She’s an enigmatic character, private, reserved, extremely focused. No less complex than any other character in film last year. Did you want a fucking soliloquy? Would a big, emotional scene in which she spills all her secrets and all the details of her past have made her more interesting? No, it would have been contradictory, which is why Mark Boal’s screenplay specifically avoids providing this.

    The Silence of the Lambs is a fantastic film, but it has hokey flashback scenes to Clarice’s youth which would have been erroneous in Zero Dark Thirty. When Clarice divulges her history to Hannibal Lecter, it’s only in exchange for information. Maya conceals her history in order to do her job. In the respect that they both do what is necessary in order to fulfill what is required of them, they are similar.

  52. January 29, 2013

    I don’t need the characters in the films I watch to go into any descriptive depth about themselves in order to understand them. We’re supposed to be able to form as good an understanding of Maya as possible from her actions, her determination, her focus.

  53. January 29, 2013

    Apparently when a female director is involved, it’s not a choice to dislike a film – as one can do with any male director – without being a sexist.

    Fucking dig deeper. It’s catchier to summarise the arguments of those with whom you disagree by distorting them, sure, but it’s inaccurate. Who ever removed from you the choice of disliking Zero Dark Thirty? Who ever even implied that?

  54. Tony
    January 29, 2013

    1.) Thank you for posting Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote in writing rather than audio. My ears would not have been able to withstand the bleeding!

    2.) If you want gender equality in movies, you will have to dispense with films set in the past. As for films set in the present, the fault lies with the multitudes of women who let the men in their lives choose what they’re going to see together.

  55. steve50
    January 29, 2013

    “She’s an enigmatic character, private, reserved, extremely focused. No less complex than any other character in film last year. Did you want a fucking soliloquy? ”

    Love, it, Paddy!

    Why does this throw people off so? It is a complete performance of a total character – within her allowed entirety. Yes, she is a bit ghost-like – that is her job and her life. It takes great skill to portray that.

  56. Jason B
    January 29, 2013

    @steve50,

    While I respect your opinion, I strongly disagree. There was nothing about her performance that made me uncomfortable or even seemed unique. Perhaps that it was the only film I’ve seen a character like Maya in a film set in the 2000s and 2010s, set in the Middle East, as part of the War on Terror, in the successful attempt to capture/kill Bin Laden – then it becomes increasingly unique when narrowed to that.

    “Girly-girl trappings”? For one, a girl should be allowed to be a “girly-girl” if they want to be.

    @CB, I’m with you. Her “character” would have been criticized as one-dimensional had she been a generic male like Tom Cruise. And let’s look at the characters Boal surrounded her with. The only other female got a dozen soldiers killed by breaking protocol, a co-worker who has to physically torture then befriend prisoners, her boss seemed sincere in his urgency to prevent further terrorists attacks (though perhaps missing bigger picture), the soldiers are charming and funny (a trait Maya lacks) but focused and efficient in action, and then there’s Tony Soprano.

    Then Boal gives Maya a few tearful or pensive scenes and expects the audience to find Maya morally conflicted or driven by logic (she sticks to one fact and doesn’t even consider other points of view). That’s probably my biggest problem with Maya is we are never privileged to her evaluation of the facts.

  57. Jason B
    January 29, 2013

    @Paddy

    “But that is her character. That is her life. That’s the point!” I would consider this film to be a character study, though. After all, it gives us very little insight into her intelligence or analysis – something to perhaps give credibility to her pursuit other than “I gotta hunch.” Yes, you can justify why she doesn’t or why the film doesn’t need it, but it’s also why I found the film boring compared to the stories of it in the NY Times and the New Yorker that were more thorough and suspenseful.

    “Who ever removed from you the choice of disliking Zero Dark Thirty? Who ever even implied that?”

    Scroll up the comments and read the implications of some posts that say people feel threatened by this portrayal and are driven by subconscious/ingrained gender norms. For example, “I wonder how many of the commenters are male.” Implies that many males are biased due to their gender, not because the film was mediocre.

  58. rufussondheim
    January 29, 2013

    I don’t need the characters in the films I watch to go into any descriptive depth about themselves in order to understand them.

    Keep the Lights On :)

  59. steve50
    January 29, 2013

    Jason – Interesting points. I have to ask, how is one to realistically portray a character of extreme focus and self-repression if one you have to break for little expository scenes (annoying as footnotes) intended to help sooth and reassure the audience along the way? When tears appear at the end it says everything you need to know about what preceded.

    Bigelow and Boal were very wise in their approach. No training wheels on this bike.

    Oh – and the girly-girl stuff. Yeah, nothing against it, it’s just not the only option and shouldn’t be the main point of evaluation, that’s all.

  60. Rodeoblu
    January 29, 2013

    I’m not going to apologize for believing strongly that Zero Dark Thirty was the best film of 2012…because many of Critics, did as well. It is purely a matter of taste, and connection to the material.
    This was part of another trashy Hollywood smear campaign pure and simple. The “torture” controversy” was sheer bull-crap and as utterly indefensible from this “liberal” community as a typical rant on Fox News. It says “based”…if you think the history was absolute or accurate on “King Speech”, “The Social Network”, “Lincoln”,”Lawrence of Arabia”…then you probably believe Michelangelo had a girlfriend just as Charlton Heston did in “Agony and the Ecstasy” It has never been expected that it be, or judged particularly on that basis. The closest I’ve seen was the attempt to derail “The Hurt Locker”

    The real discussion here I think..is why were so successful this time. And unfortunately, ultimately, Sasha is disturbingly right on every count..we simply have a long way to go. But it is shameful in as supposedly evolved and progressive community as this one that such blatant rhetorical manipulation is possible.

  61. Jerry
    January 29, 2013

    Everyone associated with the US torture policy in public were males: John Yoo, George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales etc. All males that have been called anything from monsters to evil to Hitler. Toward the end of the Bush administration the main person defending the ‘torture works’ side was Dick Cheney. Now fast forward to 2012 to the first movie made about the CIA ‘s torture program with the filmmaker appearing to defend that program. It doesn’t matter if they are male or female because they are simply seen as an apologist for Dick Cheney. You cannot divorce the torture issue from Zero Dark Thirty. It’s the most controvesial US policy of our time and is tied to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. It was controvesial hot button topic before there ever was a Zero Dark Thirty or a female filmmaker approaching the subject. The Senate intelligence committee lead by Diane Feinstein is not worked up about this movie because Bigelow is a woman. Nor is Jane Meyer worked up over this movie because Bigelow is female. They take this stuff seriously and have been in the trenches long before Hollywood made a call.
    ———————————-
    What has really harmed Boals-Bigelow is unlike Ben Affleck’s reactions to criticism over Argo’s historical accuracy they did not get ahead of the story nor will they admit what part of their film is fact vs. fiction. Additionally unlike the Affleck, Clooney, and Damons of Hollywood no one really knows Bigelow’s politics. She is a private person and isn’t out stomping for the DNC candidates every weekend so there is discomfort with her pro-military, pro-CIA films. They think deep down she really is a Republican ‘America fuck yeah’ type. Which even if she is shouldn’t matter but we all know it does in Hollywood. If Eastwood made this film, as a Republican male of course he would be treated even worse than Bigelow. It wouldn’t even have made it to Best Picture and critics would have viewed it as right wing propaganda.
    —————————–
    Good scripting and good character development does matter. Maya was a one-dimensional character whose only emotions were anger and determined/focused. If the role were played by a male there is no way that actor would have an Oscar nomination anymore than the dime a dozen action films made yearly with precisely that sterotyped male character don’t get Oscar nomination. However goodwill from her fantastic 2011 performances got Jessica Chastain that nomination. She is a very likeable person and has shown great talent in other films. However if this were her first introduction to the world as an actress that Oscar nomination wouldn’t have happen. I also found the Maya character a disappointment in that yes she has a big mouth but when it came to carrying out the torture, hitting detainees, going out on the dangerous missions it was all done by men. My mom is smaller than Jessica Chastain but would have no problems slapping around men bigger than her if needed. I don’t understand why an angry person with no personality or personal relationships with others is now the model of female empowerment.
    ————————————
    If we are going to talk about depictions of women in this film we should also address the Jessica character played by Jennifer Ehle. She was characterized as weak and completely incompetent. As far as I know this is what the CIA sold to Boals-Bigelow but her family disputes. With more distance we might find out that the CIA lied to the filmmakers.

  62. Jason B
    January 29, 2013

    @steve50,

    You don’t need expository scenes. Nor do I understand what you mean by sooth and reassure audiences. The film wasn’t a character study so you don’t need character development. And no matter what genre, expository scenes are generally avoided by screenwriters. Exposition can be organically conveyed while not compromising the pacing. But again, for this film, it wasn’t necessary since it was almost solely plot-driven.

    The dull aspect of being plot-driven in this situation is the audience knows the plot and unless you avoided the newspapers, most of the details captured in the film were not new. (Though I will admit to being unaware of the new model of helicopters used).

    In that situation, where the film is plot-driven and characters are secondary, it draws more attention to the director’s voice. In the case of Argo, Affleck decided to address it by blending genres; or in the case of Lincoln, Spielberg focused on a lessor known chapter of Lincoln’s history; or in the case of Django Unchained, Tarantino used his style and subverted genre to illustrate his own narrative voice… but what was Bigelow’s perspective?

    Zero Dark Thirty took a more distant perspective of the events. Was not directly critical or praising torture; did not favor Bush or Obama policies; did not illustrate the complexities of the investigation; did not give insight into how intelligence is gathered beyond generic scenarios; did not invoke Patriotism or cynicism; did not satirize or glorify; and did not depict challenges or benefits to being a woman in the CIA.

    While none of these various elements are requirements, there was simply not enough meat on Zero Dark Thirty’s bones to interest me when a wealth of material in the form of documentaries and journalism do a stronger job.

    To me, ZD30 felt the opposite of threatening the status quo, it felt as though it played everything too safe.

  63. Jason B
    January 29, 2013

    @ Rodeoblu,

    I’m confused. Liking the film is a matter of taste, but not liking it is part of a smear campaign? Or are those two separate thoughts?

    @ Jerry,

    Forget about Condoleeza Rice? But yes, I agree “if Eastwood made this film, as a Republican male of course he would be treated even worse than Bigelow.” ESPECIALLY after his RNC speech.

  64. Nin
    January 29, 2013

    Can I suggest another reason for the demise of ZDT? As a non-US citizen, I was appalled at the lack of comment over US foreign policy in this film. The depiction of foreigners was terrible; they were subhuman, either as a result of torture, religious fanaticism or avarice in the case of the informer bought with a Lamborghini. The Americans were actually worse, depicted as cardboard cut outs with no inner life, no conscience. They can effectively invade a foreign country and slaughter who they will.
    Argo on the other hand makes some clear statements about the consequences of US foreign policy. I realise that this is easier with benefit of long hindsight but it certainly makes the movie more acceptable overseas.

  65. Victoria
    January 29, 2013

    “Mark Boal wrote the character as a woman to make the point that in America women aren’t treated the way they are in the fundamentalist Muslim sects we’re at war with.”

    You’re acting like Mark Boal invented the character wholesale, when in fact the woman Maya is based on was only one of a number of women dedicated to tracking down bin Laden. By simplifying his story to fit the old one-woman-against-a-world-of-men cliche, Boal does a disservice to all those women and denies all of us the chance to see a less conventional, much truer narrative.

  66. January 29, 2013

    Moreover, if the lead character had been played by George Clooney do you think it would have changed anything?

    So now I have images of George Clooney in the exact same movie in the exact same wardrobe swirling around in my head. Yup. That’s never coming out.

    Okay. On topic. I didn’t like ZDT but that’s not the point right now. What I think is that you’re describing a truth that will probably always be true.

    For arguments sake, let’s say you can actually measure the quality of movies and ZDT is tied for best film of the year with one or a few other movies. But ZDT has military/intelligence types who are serious and basically just getting a job done. Then maybe one of the other films is about an old important guy and his crazy wife and a bunch of other people making laws or something. Then maybe the other movie is a bunch of crazy people who seem like people you know who are funny and in a dance contest and in the end there is a big win. Maybe there is another movie about people who also have a big win or better yet a great escape but they’re not crazy, in fact you might like to hang around with these people or be these people. Maybe the ones who aren’t hot remind you of your uncle or wacky grandpa.

    Okay those four movies of supposed equal quality would be ranked by most people like this:

    1. The people you like who win but aren’t crazy except maybe the wacky grandpa guy
    2. The people you like who win but are crazy and just might slap you
    3. The people who are good upstanding if boring people who you might want to be like in theory who get something accomplished
    4. The people who finally kill a bad dude who aren’t really that likeable and/or fun and seem unhappy in the end, which no one wants to be

    The Oscars are a popularity contest several times over. The characters have to be likeable. The popularity of the cast is as important. How you feel after it. I mean that’s what it is every year. At least this year they’re all well made films. But the popular kids, the ones you want to be like, generally do win.

  67. Jason B
    January 29, 2013

    @Victoria, there is a sense in the film that Maya was solely responsible for the location and assassination of Bin Laden. Maya wanted to just bomb the building – disregarding the fact all evidence would be destroyed and the question of whether Bin Laden was actually there would remain. Pres. Obama made the right choice that allowed us to recover important information. Again, another example where the film makes Maya seem like another irrational woman surrounded by guys who make a whole lot more sense. This should have been how Maya was presented.

  68. James
    January 29, 2013

    I still prefer Chastian’s performance, playing a character that exists within her own world and her existence is not solely for another character. She’s focused and no we don’t have any particular details about her ordinary social life because she doesn’t have one. It’s really not necessary to the overall picture.

    Lawrence did a fine job, but there were some moments(That’s a feeling monologue, and the scene with the entire family) where she wasn’t up to her usual par. I blame that a little more on writing and perhaps age.

  69. Jerry
    January 29, 2013

    Jason B,
    I debated adding Condoleeza Rice’s name but left her out because the men I listed were the main ones blamed for the torture policy. Rice for the most part was not as smeared with the pro-torture paint brush as others in the administration. She also generally got more favorable press than Hillary Clinton although she didn’t accomplish much. I think it’s because she was the least hated person in that administration. She also didn’t make it a habit of defending the policy in every interview like the men. She was Republican lite.:D

  70. Winston
    January 29, 2013

    A best picture nominee directed by a woman and starring a female lead is a revolutionary idea, that is when it was called Winter’s Bone in 2010. I would say that Jennifer Lawrence’s character in that film was a lot stronger than Chastain’s in ZDT. So were her characters in Poker House (directed by Lori Petty) and Hunger Games. That last one incidentally is a much bigger feminist statement than ZDT.

    From day one Ms. Stone has twisted herself into a pretzel for ZDT. Yet the hilarious irony is that Jennifer Lawrence has much more effectively represented everything Ms. Stone claims to value. And claiming that her character in SLP only exists for a man or whatever the rhetorical nonsense is this week is laughable. Lawrence has the ability to convey strength in her characters. Has made a career on it. Anyway, I could have sworn acting awards are supposed to reflect the quality of the acting. Guess not. Instead it’s the quality of the acting only as a representation of the author’s own idiosyncrasies.

    So Ms. Stone values the alleged statement a film makes according to her own ideological preferences over trite matters like the quality of the film or it’s accuracy as a supposed journalistic account of events. So be it.

  71. Pierre de Plume
    January 29, 2013

    But the saving grace in this mishegoss is that we have these works of art for all time.

    You’re exactly right, Sasha, to say these things. Down the road, people won’t be hashing out what’s being hashed here because ZD30 will be there instead – on its own and without all the noise of now.

    ZD30 was not a perfect film for me. It was missing an emotional factor that I like to see in most of the films I watch. But this doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent film — it is. Boal and Bigelow didn’t set out to make that kind of film — they didn’t care to feed my cinematic sensibility, and why should they? They had a particular story to tell.

    The same thing holds true for the Maya character. Others above, including Paddy Mulholland, have addressed this point well. Chastain played the role the way it should’ve been played; she didn’t add the JLaw flourishes (and I like JLaw, by the way) because that’s not the character. When Maya gets upset something happens to her jaw.

    I think it’s a shame that this film has been marginalized to the extent it has. I agree the reason for this involves gender politics, particularly those of the Hollywood variety. I trust that Bigelow and Chastain understand this even if they don’t like it. Nobody could have directed The Hurt Locker like Bigelow and the same holds true for ZD30. Someday she’ll do another film — it might even be controversial — that will be more compatible with the Academy’s tastes, and I’m sure the same thing holds true for Chastain. All the while, though, both of these women I think understand the dynamics at work here and probably take it in stride even if they don’t much care for it.

  72. Winston
    January 29, 2013

    Furthermore, criticism of ZDT is not sexism or a reaction by the status quo. When you purport to create a first-hand journalistic account of a major recent event, you must be prepared to accept criticism of how you depict the events in question. The same with Fair Game (Sean Penn). Playing the victim card is desperation.

  73. Winston
    January 29, 2013

    Actually one additional point. At the risk of being obnoxious, don’t you think ZDT plays both sides of the issue? On the one hand criticism of the film is labeled “sexism.” Yet on the other the film plays up the Maya character in a seemingly conscious effort to create a female hero, even perhaps to the point of exaggerating her role as subsequent critics have suggested. So wasn’t the film really an attempt to exploit sexual politics rather than a victim of sexual politics? Worth considering.

  74. Jason B
    January 29, 2013

    @Pierre de Plume

    While my disagreement about the film has been voiced, I do after that Bigelow is an interesting director and will make a film thats much better than this. Boal will also write a better screenplay that isn’t given the last minute rewrite that I believe weakened ZD30.

    then again, those weaknesses have made it the divisive film it is. I just didn’t find this incarnation of their partnership to be effective and was almost unbearably dull. Maybe I went into it with too much knowledge of the events but it just seemed to be an overlong montage to catch up those who somehow missed the last decade…. So perhaps ZD30 will have value in the future.

  75. Ariel
    January 29, 2013

    Paddy wrote that judging by the screennames on this thread, it would seem that the majority of the respondents were men. Well, I’m a woman, and here’s the comment that riled me up beyond all others, and compelled me to write on AwardsDaily for the first time after years of merely reading:

    “The sassy, brassy, flawed, and sexually-oriented female defines our primary comfort zone for women onscreen. It has been that way since somebody had the genius idea to create the first whore-with-the-heart-of-gold and the box office responded. It keeps the gender roles straight and nobody feels threatened – men are secure in their fantasies and, more important, women are secure in theirs in that there is no pressure of expectation to exceed beyond what is portrayed. ” — Steve50

    This is ridiculous. My female friends and I do not enjoy romantic comedies — or other movies that feature “sassy, brassy, flawed, and sexually-oriented females” — because they assure us that we are only expected to pursue men or romance. We are college seniors about to embark upon careers in law, medicine, marketing, computer programming, and museum curation. That we seek out and validate escapist entertainment at the multiplex does not mean we hold it up as an example for our own lives. And while I agree that movies can reinforce or create cultural values, I do not think every movie must have a heroine like Maya or Lisbeth for women to continue breaking the glass ceiling. I would love to see more movies featuring female characters pursuing creative and entrepreneurial success — not everyone needs to be a single-minded CIA agent or traumatized computer hacker.

    I resent that Steve and Rufus assume that my opinions — or the opinions of any women who disagree with them or Sasha — are a result of “male elite” propaganda. Many people, male and female alike, are capable of analyzing dominating cultural influences and forming thoughts that do not merely reflect existing gender roles.

    I think Zero Dark Thirty is a very good movie, and that Jessica Chastain gave a nuanced, deeply impressive performance. I do not think the response to Zero Dark Thirty was primarily dictated by its protagonist’s gender. Rather, I think politicians and audiences alike are scared by the movie’s implications about America and the difficulty of fighting terrorism (or any enemy) while maintaining moral high ground. Gender seems secondary when such difficult questions about our country’s character loom.

  76. Pierre de Plume
    January 30, 2013

    Ariel, I’m glad there are people like you and your friends. That you are relatively young suggests to me that gender politics are headed in the right direction.

  77. JD
    January 30, 2013

    ZD30 Metacritic score: 95/100

    Enough said.

    Anyway, the snubs are not that surprising. When it comes to awards, in the showbiz, if you want to win big you just don’t make a movie like ZD30. Forget about the fact Bigelow is a woman, Maya is a female, Chastain’s performance is not so flashy and so on. This movie is not a shout-out to Hollywood like Argo is and just doesn’t play it safe like many of the others movies, SLP included. It was thought and created in a different way, regardless of Hollywood’s logic.

  78. danny
    January 30, 2013

    All I can say is that reading some of the comments here it’s obvious to me that Sasha has hit a nerve! It seems the suggestion of sexism is almost as controversial as the portrayal of torture.

    I completely agree with Sasha, and would take it further, I believe this crazy trumped up debate about torture is actually a subconscious excuse for the male elite to defend themselves against intimidating women.

    Let’s make this point really clear. Mark Boal wrote the damn movie, and it could be argued that he was the responsible party for the decision to portray torture, but he didn’t get snubbed, Bigelow did. 24 depicted torture working constantly and never received this kind of attack, because luckily Jack Bauer was a man. How many thousands of films depicting despicable acts performed by men to get things done have gone by without a whimper of complaint. No one seems to care that Django ruthlessly shoots innocent people as a blanket and balletic revenge for evils done to him (seeing candies sister fly recoil through the air was awfully funny, but what on earth was her crime?). If a man does it the ends entirely justify the means

    But Maya, oh my god what a nightmare, a strong determined focused woman who’s sexuality is her own bloody business thankyou instigating torture, RUN FOR THE HILLS.

    At some point america will grow up, it just doesn’t look like any time soon.

  79. January 30, 2013

    I resent that Steve and Rufus assume that my opinions — or the opinions of any women who disagree with them or Sasha — are a result of “male elite” propaganda.

    I don’t think steve was referring to all women. Just some women. I can’t speak for him, though.

    @ Jason – still, no-one denied you the choice to dislike Zero Dark Thirty.

    Scroll up the comments and read the implications of some posts that say people feel threatened by this portrayal and are driven by subconscious/ingrained gender norms. For example, “I wonder how many of the commenters are male.” Implies that many males are biased due to their gender, not because the film was mediocre.

    Not all males, but many. And I wasn’t implying anything. I was suggesting. Throwing a thought out into the ether.

    I hope you’re not slagging Keep the Lights On, rufus! ;)

  80. Vagelis
    January 30, 2013

    Sasha let’s be frank here. Men films are way better than women films, and it has nothing to do with Mr Hollywood being a Mr. It’s just that most women films are crappy!. Dead poets society hello ding dong? :P. Then women try to copy it with the God-Awful Mona Lisa Smille. And as for Maya in ZDT, she is a completely bland uninteresting character that just seems coldand i couldn’t even relate to. I prefer Ann Hathaway 1000 times more and her awesome work in Dark Knight Rises. Men have better films, just get over it xoxo :) !. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6i5vgDJFb4 !

  81. steve50
    January 30, 2013

    WOW! Ariel! I was a bit shocked when I read your response this morning, but I’m so glad you did so that I can clarify some things that may have been misconstrued, the result of having to squeeze ideas into a conversational comment post.

    First, I’m glad what has been said prompted you to respond. I don’t why more women haven’t, because Sasha has been great at keeping this issue front and center for years.

    You said, “That we seek out and validate escapist entertainment at the multiplex does not mean we hold it up as an example for our own lives,” and I truly believe you. But movies are a manufactured product that probably fall under two of the five types of escapism, projection (where the participant inserts themselves into an ideal behaviour) and fantasy formation (an activity similar to daydreaming that allows thhe mind some relief from reality).

    Who creates the vast majority of these “tools”? Center for the Study of Women inTelevision and Film at San Diego State University released the results of a study that found, to no one’s surprise, only 9 percent of directors of the top 250 grossing Hollywood films in 2012 were women – up from 5% last year, but still at the same level as 15 years ago, indicating an overall decline. A decline! It’s 2013!

    Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, said, “”If (white) men are directing the vast majority of our films, the majority of those films will be about (white) males from a (white) male point of view,” said Lauzen. “Increasingly, this perspective does not reflect the community of filmmakers in this country or the community of moviegoers.”

    Independent film, removed from corporate Hollywood, has slightly better results – 29.8 percent of 11,197 directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors on films between 2002 to 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival.

    My point was not to suggest any kind of mind-control brainwashing grip on society, but the off-balance acceptance of the preference for “Tiffany” over “Maya”. Both are needed in the escapist world, but as long as males have control over what is presented, the roles they are most comfortable with will prevail. I don’t believe if replacing “Tiffany” with “Maya”, just providing more “Maya” – types to facilitate an adjustment with the overall audience comfort-levels. In a society that worships celebrity, like ours, the broader the spectrum of role models, the better.

    Finally, this comment from you:

    “I think politicians and audiences alike are scared by the movie’s implications about America and the difficulty of fighting terrorism (or any enemy) while maintaining moral high ground. Gender seems secondary when such difficult questions about our country’s character loom.”

    First, think very carefully about your statement, Ariel. As an educated woman, can you be certain there is absolutely no connection between a country’s gender role definition and its overall character? Just a question to consider.

    Sorry if my remarks upset you, but glad you called me on my generalizations.

    Here’s an interesting link on the entertainment “drug”.

    link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-drugs-and-boredom/200908/why-is-entertainment-so-entertaining

  82. Kane
    January 30, 2013

    Vagelis,

    In a way I was going to agree with you except that STUDIO films done by women are not as great as STUDIO films done by men…I had to delete my first sentence and tell you to look at the nominees for worst director in most years of the Razzies. Most of those nominees are men. The truth is that most films out there are done by men. Out of every 100 films done by men, maybe 10 would be absolute hits, not including films that would be considered “okay”. If 2012 released 10 films done by women maybe 1 would be that absolute hit with a few “okay” ones. Sure I’m not the biggest fan of Nancy Myers and I’m on the fence about Catherine Hardwick (except when she picks the right projects) but let’s not forget Bigelow, Campion, Coppola, Ramsey, DuVernay…if you want great films done by women trying to share their voice with the world go to Sundance. Sometimes I’ll see movies where I couldn’t tell if the director was a man or woman until the credits.

  83. Kane
    January 30, 2013

    Steve50,

    While I do believe that in the past if controversy was aimed at a female director for torture, and I’m talking decades ago, then sure it might be because of her gender. However, even if David Fincher made ZD30 it would gain just the same controversy specifically because the film suggests that we brought an end to a notorious terrorist through the means of torture…an act that our enemies likely use much of. I stated it above yesterday, politicians don’t want to admit that maybe our forces and intelligence officers had to become monsters to catch a monster. I believe in my heart that the issue of torture trancends Bigelow’s gender and it’s all about what the US may or may not have done to catch Bin Laden. Why? Because then people will wonder if we’ll do it again.

  84. himynameiscole
    January 30, 2013

    “I think Zero Dark Thirty is a very good movie, and that Jessica Chastain gave a nuanced, deeply impressive performance. I do not think the response to Zero Dark Thirty was primarily dictated by its protagonist’s gender. Rather, I think politicians and audiences alike are scared by the movie’s implications about America and the difficulty of fighting terrorism (or any enemy) while maintaining moral high ground. Gender seems secondary when such difficult questions about our country’s character loom.”

    ^
    this

  85. rolotomasi99
    January 30, 2013

    Thank Sasha for continuing to shine a light on the sexist bullshit still rampant in so-called liberal Hollywood. I think the different reactions to the violence in Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained are the best proof that people respond differently to women and violence than they do to men. While Maya never actually partakes in the torture and is clearly shaken by it, she does not stop it like most people would expect. Django, on the other hand, commits one brutal act after another and the audience literally cheers his actions.

    Likewise, a female director like Bigelow is attacked for making macho male movies (as you can see from the comments above) while Tarantino is praised for being brilliant in the many different ways he can show bullets ripping bodies open. I think some folks just cannot handle the idea of a woman depicting such violent behavior.

    Mark Boal researched and wrote the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, while Bigelow brought them to the screen. However, Boal was nominated while Bigelow was snubbed. If her being snubbed is just about the controversy of showing torture (and has nothing to do with her gender) than why does Boal not receive similar treatment for putting those torture scenes in the film in the first place?

    This whole reaction to Zero Dark Thirty reminds me of how people felt about the Abu Grahib prisoner abuse. Despite the fact that the majority of the perpetrators of the violence were male, the media and society seemed to be most upset about the female soldiers. Lynndie England was called every misogynistic word in the book. Some folks even tried to make the argument that this was why women should not be in the army at all. They were more upset about how unfeminine torture is than how morally wrong it is.

    If Tarantino had made a movie about the killing of Bin Laden, it would have be even more brutal and its violence would be shot in a way audiences found entertaining. Also, the lead would be a man, there would be no controversy, and everyone would call it brilliant.

  86. rufussondheim
    January 30, 2013

    We’ll see if the sassy and brassy Ariel sings the same tune when she’s been in the real world for a decade or so rather than comforted by the cosiness of undergraduate academia.

  87. Kane
    January 30, 2013

    Rufus, I went to film school, and commuted, to Temple University. Believe me, there’s no comfort or cosiness in that part of Philly! A cheesesteak can comfort only so much…

  88. steve50
    January 30, 2013

    No point, rufus. They know better, just like we did in that environment, and our parents before us. They might try and wave a warning flag 20 years from now only to get nipped, too.

    The cycle continues.

  89. Jason B
    January 30, 2013

    @Paddy – “Not all males, but many. And I wasn’t implying anything. I was suggesting. Throwing a thought out into the ether.”

    That’s like saying, “It’s not a punch. I just balled my fist and thrust it forward, and if it happens your face was there then it might hit you. But it wasn’t a punch.” It’s funny how you say you aren’t implying that, yet you bold the word “implying” and then say again, “not all males, but many”. Just because I don’t agree with you, don’t weaken your own claims.

    @Danny, The controversy the film sparked (even Sen. Dianne Feinstein spoke out) was by actions taken by the male characters in the film. 24 sparked the controversy: http://tinyurl.com/24Torture

    I would argue, the fictional world 24 exists in – not to mention it was on Fox where people could assume a neo-con bias – gives it some cover. Whereas ZD30, Bigelow is filming a recent historic event and her politics have never been quite known. If the film didn’t spark controversy over torture, I would be disappointed.

    “No one seems to care that Django ruthlessly shoots innocent people as a blanket and balletic revenge for evils done to him” Again, you overlook a lot of evidence contradicting you. Django first got hit by Spike Lee who said the revenge western genre was insulting to his ancestors. Second, its a fantasy film that falls into Tarantino’s body of work, next to Kill Bill, so no one questions that. Third, Django was tied up in its own controversy regarding the N-word.

    I’ll agree that other unredeemable characters that are males like Daniel Plainview or Mark Zuckerburg haven’t received as much public attention as Maya. But likewise, audiences were split by these characters. Just look through all the Best Picture nominees and you won’t find many films centered around characters like those.

    And this is for @Steve50, too: I’d argue, Americans (male and female) don’t feel comforted by characters playing certain gender norms, but by redeemable characters who have character development and an arc. When there isn’t that, as in The Master, it becomes a more divisive film. And you either have to find something captivating about the character (as with Plainview’s sly humor and chilling dialogue) or you don’t (Maya sitting then freaking out while all the men around her are portrayed rational, calm and even funny).

  90. January 30, 2013

    No, Jason, I was not implying anything. You misinterpreted.

  91. steve50
    January 30, 2013

    Good point, Jason. The taste for redeemable characters who have character development and an arc is an acquired reflex, a developmental response. This is what we are told is good acting when we are learning, so anything off that beaten path has a tough time because it doesn’t feel right or provide the fix expected from the escapist experience.

    I also appreciate your including the word “redeemable” in there, which is an important added layer or prerequisite. I do think male characters have a better chance of getting off if they are not redeemable than female characters, though.

  92. Jason B
    January 30, 2013

    @rolotomasi99

    You cannot compare Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained. One is real events presented in a docudrama genre and the other is a fantasy that subverts the spagetti western genre.

    Also, “a female director like Bigelow is attacked for making macho male movies… I think some folks just cannot handle the idea of a woman depicting such violent behavior.” Did we forget the near unanimous praise The Hurt Locker received, not to mention it winning 6 Oscars including Best Director? A win that likely opened the opportunity to make ZD30.

    “If Tarantino had made a movie about the killing of Bin Laden, it would have be even more brutal and its violence would be shot in a way audiences found entertaining.” So you’re suggesting the way Bigelow shot it was NOT entertaining to audiences… then you wonder why Bigelow did not get the Best Director nomination?

    I can’t tell you why Boal got nominated, though. His script for The Hurt Locker was much tighter and better structured than ZD30. I think the Directing nominations are rather strong, except Life of Pi, which I have not seen so perhaps Bigelow should have been in that spot, or PT Anderson. Who knows… Boal, on the other hand, got nominated in a weak category this year. Amour is the only heavy weight in writing this year (Tarantino and Anderson elevated mediocre scripts with their style).

  93. Jason B
    January 30, 2013

    @Paddy,

    Okay, so you’re saying that it is not the case many men might be bias by their genre. I’ll accept that.

  94. Jason B
    January 30, 2013

    “I do think male characters have a better chance of getting off if they are not redeemable than female characters, though.”

    That I’m genuinely not sure about. There’s not many females in that position in films other than the horror genre. ZD30 did not feel the best vessel for such a character mostly because it doesn’t portray her as being intelligent as well. Most of the detailed facts (like there’s three women and only two men, which is contrary to their culture) came from the male characters. Then Maya says “I’m the m*therf’er”.

    Compare that to Daniel Plainview who has a similar arc as Maya (both achieve their plot goal, but their development is stagnant). Plainview has observable actions that reveal his intellect, like building churches and using his “son” as a prop. Or the case of Mark Zuckerberg… he has funny one liners and some added sympathy due to the opening scene.

    As for Maya, one opportunity was the death of her co-worker. Maya did not have to feel sorry for that woman, but perhaps evaluate her own safety. Is she willing to put her own safety at risk? Instead, what we witness is a shooting she stumbles into and the choice for her to be re-located isn’t up to her. So while her character does not need to change, we can at least witness the choices she makes. But instead, everything happens TO her, not by her.

    And while that passivity can be justified by some as “well, she had a desk job” or something, that is not a valid argument. There’s been plenty of films as such that have worked because they take it into consideration, Like All the President’s Men.

  95. rufussondheim
    January 30, 2013

    Everyone always likes to quote the critics of the film. But somehow people always forget to quote this little gem.

    “Some of the detainees who provided useful information about the facilitator/courier’s role had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques were the ‘only timele and effective way’ to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively.” – Leon Panetta.

    This was in a letter he wrote to John McCain after bin Laden was killed. This was in the Time cover article on Bigelow.

    Now couple that quote with Bigelow’s from earlier in the article, “Where there’s clarity in the world, there’s clarity in the film.”

    Also, why does no one ever question the political motives of the people criticizing the film? Dianne Feinstein, even though I love her, has a constutuency to represent, votes to earn, campaign contributers to please and she’s seen as a virtuous and believable source. Really? She might be honestly stating her opinion, but her opinion is not fact and she may be wrong.

    I’m just so sick of this witchhunt. And knowing the gender of most of the world’s persecuted ‘witches’ I think that’s the proper word to use here.

  96. Ariel
    January 30, 2013

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful response, Steve, and for sharing those statistics about the number of female directors. You are absolutely right that we need to encourage filmmakers with different perspectives and backgrounds to make movies that reflect the ways in which the world is changing and has already changed. A broader spectrum of role models would be wonderful, especially in movies geared towards children and adolescents.

    I also think you are right to point out the potential connection between a country’s character and its gender role definitions, though I’m not sure ZDT as a movie suggests such a connection. I suppose Maya’s initial discomfort at participating in torture could be construed as gendered behavior.

    Perhaps my response to the movie was modified by my feminism. Because I didn’t think it seemed strange that Maya was the agent searching for Bin Laden, I thought more about things like the potential disconnect between the celebration of UBL’s death and the condemnation of how we treated detainees between 2001 and 2009. It is naive of me to assume that my perspective is shared by the rest of the audience, and that misogyny didn’t play a role in any response to the movie. But I still think the messy moral center of this movie is American behavior during the war on terror, and that gender is merely a piece of a much bigger problem.

    Again, thanks for reading and for clarifying!

    Rufus: If Awards Daily is still around in 2022 I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’m enjoying my impudence and youthful idealism.

  97. rufussondheim
    January 30, 2013

    And I loved Keep the Lights On, Paddy! I need to read at least one of the books by the crack-smoking half of that relationship and then watch the movie again. It’s a fascinating story.

  98. rufussondheim
    January 30, 2013

    Why do I feel like Ariel’s present day life with her four friends are currently living in the pilot episode of some HBO Comedy?

    Am I that jaded?

  99. Jason B
    January 30, 2013

    @Ariel, “I suppose Maya’s initial discomfort at participating in torture could be construed as gendered behavior.” I don’t agree. Just as with the gentle positioning to neither favor nor criticize either the Bush or the Obama administration, I feel they did likewise with torture by neither saying it benefited nor harmed the man hunt; and likewise, that those conducting torture neither enjoyed it nor allowed personal feelings to impede their work.

    The film really tried and succeeded to not endorse any viewpoint, hence why many found the film lacking any theme or message. It was a docudrama that just summarized what happened, like the quick montages you see before an episode of 24 or something.

    I agree with you how your interpreted the film. And regarding this comment, “I thought more about things like the potential disconnect between the celebration of UBL’s death and the condemnation of how we treated detainees between 2001 and 2009″ and I think that would have been a more interesting film had they at least debated the perspectives on such.

    The film just tried not to say anything wrong or endorse a viewpoint and then ended up not saying anything at all. The film choose to recreate events (like the UK bus bombing) instead of recreating the debates that were present at the time. There has been many fascinating articles written from a wide array of perspectives (as well as American and foreign) on our pursuit of UBL and the War on Terror in general. A film could have been constructed to include such. As well as, show consideration of why Bin Laden was a symbol that needed to be carefully taken down. The decision to release the detail porn was found in his compound was likely carefully debated for its benefits.

    Boal’s script for Zero Dark Thirty almost makes me wish Aaron Sorkin had wrote it.

  100. rufussondheim
    January 30, 2013

    Yes, Jason, ZDT is a terrible film and gives us nothing to discuss. What a waste of celluloid! Now excuse me, I don’t have time write more about this neglible piece of cinematic garbage I have to go the other threads discussing how the thematic elements of Jack Reacher are more derived from Tolstoy than Chekhov.

  101. Jason B
    January 30, 2013

    Just because a film can propel a public discussion doesn’t mean the film itself offers any interesting insight. Right now after all the gun control debates, films like the new Arnold one have arose debate (especially since he was a Republican governor waving a gun around). The Human Centipede can arise interesting questions, as well.

    I don’t have any hesitance in saying ZDT is an important film, but that doesn’t mean I think its a well constructed film. I’m indifferent about the artistry of Piss Christ, but it sure does have its place in public discussion and art history.

  102. Jason B
    January 30, 2013

    @rufussondheim, for all the talk about generalizations and stereotypes, I’m stating what I believe about the film AS A FILM. Not attributing personal politics to the film or using film history as justification for the film’s failures, or at least the insufficiencies that kept me disinterested by the film and instead turning to re-read feature stories in the NY Times and New Yorker about the Bin Laden man hunt and the War on Terror for some moderate substance. “Getting Bin Laden” by Nicholas Schmidle in the New Yorker was a fascinating article, though the last page is a bit rushed and weaker.

  103. rufussondheim
    January 30, 2013

    But, yet I don’t see threads discussing that “I am the sheriff” movie or the Human Centipede. I don’t see either creating any interesting levels of conversation.

    Now, Piss Christ is a different story. I’ve never seen the photo and I’ve personally never put a crucifix in my own urine but to be utterly dismissive of that work as art shows me you’ve not thought too much about it (or at least gained nothing from that pontification.) Now, I am no Serrano expert but that piece, as simple as it may be, poses some valuable questions, mainly what gives the viewer the most heightened reaction, the piss or the depiction of Jesus? Does the piss degrade the imagery of Jesus, or does the imagery of Jesus raise our estimating of piss? I would argue that if you are more repulsed by the piss then you should probably read the Bible more because you’ve missed parts of it.

    But that’s just me.

    ZDT screams to me “Is this acceptable to you?” and, frankly, I still don’t know the answers. And that’s a great piece of work, in my opinion.

  104. Doddi Jonsson
    January 30, 2013

    I would have loved getting any feedback from my comment earlier, especially from Sasha, since I believe what I asked needs to be discussed. (And I admit I haven’t read all the comments thoroughly, so maybe an answer lies there somewhere?). But the question, more plainly put: Is is not possible that the voting people in the Academy simply like Argo more than any other picture this year? Does it have to be gender-related, concerning the issue about ZDT??

    Disliking ZDT is not attack on the film or its makers, it simply didn’t move me. And I never will understand the love for the film because it is not that good! But hey … healthy discussions and debatable Oscars … we love that, don’t we?

  105. rufussondheim
    January 30, 2013

    There are a hundred reasons why people would choose Argo over other the other films, and some have to do with the quality of the film. But others will choose it for reasons that are petty, sexist, racist, elitist, classist and so on. Heck, maybe it’s the only they saw!

    When I read columns like Sasha’s I always take it under consideration that she’s not generalizing, and that she’s not describing how any group or organization universally thinks. I always assume she is talking about a small group of people that may or may not be statistically significant.

    I would hope others shared that perspective, but I guess they do not preferring to take advantage of the BOGO torch sale at the local thrift shop.

    (Yes, that’s a shout-out to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – please check out their My Oh My video, it’s awesome!)

  106. Jason B
    January 30, 2013

    Ugh, my internet screwed up and lost everything. I’ll condense what I wrote.

    1. I didn’t “utterly dimiss” anything. I stated that Piss Christ has a value in art history and could probably write a book on why public funding should not be hindered by the need to appease all taxpayers, and further, why its necessary for art to challenge the First Amendment. AS AN ART PIECE, I think it would be better suited as a sculpture than a photograph. I have other opinions on it regarding its formal qualities (like color palate), but Piss Christ isn’t the subject of this post.

    2. Merely because something has a strong story and some elements that elevate its content, does not mean one must find the film successful. The retort you should have made was that whether or not the craftsmanship was sufficient, that the choice of content will always transcend craftsmanship if it somehow propels public discussion and acknowledgment. Hence why a film can be flawless, challenging, thought-provoking, well crafted… and then disappear into the cinematic waste bin of history while everyone remembers Titanic. I’d argue – especially with the Oscars – that’s a strength of publicity and pop culture and not a reflection of the film. But of course, Titanic is remembered and a stronger film this year, like Amour, will be forgotten.

    3. “Is this acceptable to you?” This is where I think we’re disagreeing most. Perhaps I’m jaded by the past 10 years, but I think Haneke, Wilder or Kubrick would have challenged our notions to a more complex degree. I found the portrayal of torture in ZDT to be well constructed and why I think the first act of ZDT far exceeds the rest of the film. And I agree with Bigelow that there’s no denying torture occurred and why I agree that the debate over ZDT isn’t about torture.

    Rather, some politicians and critics have risen the question about whether the film suggests torture helped find Bin Laden. I’m not quite sure where they are pulling that from. To me it seems they couldn’t have avoided somehow addressing torture. And the film carefully walked the middle road, as I have already said, on a number of other issues…

    So where is it the film challenging any notions of acceptability? It just wasn’t the film I saw. Maybe had I not read the news for 10 years, I might be shocked – and I’m curious to show the future post-9/11 generations the film to see their perspective. Depending on the results of drone attacks, it could be an effective tool to summarize key points like “Last Week On…” montages before a TV show.

  107. daveinprogress
    January 30, 2013

    Kathryn Bigelow cast Jessica Chastain so perfectly for this movie (and pretty much every one else too), but the movie relies on Chastain as the pulse beat for the movie. Watching her evolution or devolution through the movie was wonderful. Her body language, tentative eye contact and nervous eyeballs into steely and focused positions; her saunter into a strut and quiet but determined place within any grouping of actors was fascinating. Bigelow is at the peak of her powers with this movie. Very engaging in both action sequences and the quiet devastating ones. Surprisingly to me, the runnning time was not an issue, it was too compelling. Once the media hoo-haa subsides the value of the narrative as a movie will remain and endure.

  108. Ligaya
    January 31, 2013

    I read this whole thread late last night & don’t want to do it again, so please forgive me if I’m repeating comments already made. These are my opinions: 1. Directors may do whatever they want, 2. the artistic merit of any film is separate from that, 3. ZDT is not a documentary and can play fast & loose with the facts, 4. movies by necessity conflate/compress facts to fit the 2 hour limit, 5. sadly, for young people, movies are the main/only way of learning history. Movies, especially documentaries, can also shine the light on truth – regardless of their artistic merit.

    Given that, I found Bill Moyers’ take on ZDT enlightening – paraphrasing, How to Love Torture in 7 Easy Steps. I think his main criticism was that ZDT wasn’t placed in context nor was it balanced, so therefore Bigelow is complicit in reinforcing that torture is OK, whether that was her intention or not. ZDT has reignited the controversity of the measures we’ve taken in the war against terrorism, and I hope the nation will continue to debate it.

    At least, the ZDT controversy has placed it front and center – publicity they won’t have to pay for and which can only add to their coffers.

    http://billmoyers.com/2013/01/10/learning-to-love-torture-zero-dark-thirty-style/

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