A Big Bold Crack in the Glass Ceiling – Kathryn Bigelow Wins DGA Prize

by Melissa Silverstein on January 31, 2010

in Awards,Women Directors

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This is big.

This is Sally Ride, first American woman in space big.  This is Sandra Day O’Connor, first female on the Supreme Court big.  This is Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs big.

This is a big, bold blast in the glass ceiling for all women directors.

Last night in the wee hours here on the east coast, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman EVER to win the DGA top honors for feature filmmaking.

What is interesting about the DGA event is that all the nominees get up to make a speech, all receive a silver plaque and then at the end of the evening one gets the gold.  Reports are that when Bigelow’s name was announced everyone cheered.

I’m getting goose bumps just writing about it.

Her acceptance speech seemed incredibly humble:

“Just to be in the room with all of you is an unimaginable honor,” says Bigelow, who appeared uncomfortable speaking to the audience. “We all felt a deep responsibility to tell this story as honestly as possible, given the courage of our troops overseas. This is the most incredible moment of my life. And with that, I’ll disappear.”

But following the whole event on twitter I couldn’t help but be dismayed at some of the sexist remarks coming out of the mouths of people in the room.

Here’s what Lee Daniels, the director of Precious said of Bigelow: “Your movie is as beautiful as your legs.  You make me question my sexuality.”

I find that incredibly offensive.  Lee just finished making a movie about how a girl was treated because of how she looked and who she was, and this is the bullshit that comes out of his mouth when talking about his fellow nominee?  Unacceptable.

Another comment:

Stage manager (I can’t figure out who that person is) to Carl Reiner after seeing Bigelow: “That’s the most beautiful director I’ve ever seen.


Jeremy Renner said the only thing to rival Kathryn Bigelow in a bikini is “Lee Daniels in a one-piece.”

I was tweeting back and forth with another woman who knows much more about the awards that I do and she wrote to me when I said I was appauled:

I think it’s unique to have such a looker in the room up for awards.  Plus, ppl are surprised she is almost 60. But yeah.

I wonder if they said the same things to Robert Redford back in the day.

I was thinking maybe only in the most rare cases, like Brad Pitt or Redford.  I’ve never seen them talk this way about any other.

But some other people did notice the comments and were disturbed by them.  Andre Soares at Alt Film Guide wrote:

Comments abounded on Bigelow’s looks — in other words, on the fact that she’s a woman. Had she been a handsome guy, I wonder how many remarks would have been made about his physical attributes. And how many male directors and presenters would be publicly questioning their sexuality.

And in other good news, Lesli Linka Glatter took top honors for AMC’s Mad Men.

What does this mean for women directors in the future, only time will tell but at least no one will ever have to be the first one in this category again.

One big step forward and a little push back.

Kathryn Bigelow tops directors with ‘Hurt Locker’ (USA Today)

DGA Awards: Focus on Kathryn Bigelow’s Gender Alt Film Guide


{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol de Assis January 31, 2010 at 11:05 AM

I was really happy for Lesli Linka too. ‘Guy walks into an advertising agency’ is one of the best episodes of Mad Men, probably one of the best episodes of a TV show I have ever watched. I was happy to know that a woman directed it, and even happier when she won. I hope this trend echoes at the Oscars!

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist ! January 31, 2010 at 2:40 PM

Yes !!!!! this is great. I will definitely tune in to the Oscars. I ignored the Golden Globes (and I’m glad I did).

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist ! January 31, 2010 at 2:41 PM

by the way Lee Daniels is a douche-bag.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist ! January 31, 2010 at 2:42 PM

Lee Daniels is a douche-bag. I am so happy that Bigelow won, but UGHHH, those stupid comments about her looks were un-necessary. WTF.

I am def. going to watch the Oscars!

Chris Evans January 31, 2010 at 2:44 PM

Ugh. At the end of the day, no matter how talented a woman is, it always ends up coming back to her appearance one way or the other.

Thomai in L.A. (it rhymes) January 31, 2010 at 3:02 PM


and ummmmm

we got a woman in space first..wow that says something doesn’t it.

Way to go Bigelow!

sally January 31, 2010 at 5:13 PM

Thoughts: It could be that she gets the Oscar. It could be. It’s hard to believe that this is a first. But here we are. I’d love for the DVD to have an extra on her reactions and how historical this is.

I want to touch that disk. I wonder how heavy it is. Don’t you?

Erica K January 31, 2010 at 5:35 PM

I don’t really find the comments sexist or appalling. She’s the first woman to win. Of course, these GUYS – gay or otherwise – are going to make funny comments about that. None were, IMO, demeaning to her. Plus, I think since it is general consensus that she really deserved the award, all that is left to say are funny asides that will be forgotten before they’re fully spoken. Better than people saying she didn’t deserve it.

Wellywoodwoman January 31, 2010 at 10:50 PM

What a glorious moment, for all of us women who make movies. At last. Congratulations, Kathryn Bigelow– You did it!

(And I hope The Hurt Locker reaches New Zealand soon.)

Allison January 31, 2010 at 11:04 PM

I hope she wins the Oscar. But I really think it was sexist to make those comments on her looks, especially the comment by Lee Daniels. No one would have said anything about looks if she were a man.

Rebecca February 1, 2010 at 6:25 AM


isn’t Lee Daniels openly gay? I kind of read his comment as a compliment.

DarthVelma February 1, 2010 at 8:32 AM

I hate to be pedantic, but Sally Ride was not the first woman in space. Valentina Tereshkova of the former USSR has that honor.


writer February 1, 2010 at 9:42 AM

My friends and I talk about how handsome writer/director Tony Gilroy is all the time and Ms. Bigelow is striking.

It’s Hollywood. People are obsessed with looks in front and behind the camera. If Bigelow was ugly there would be no comments as there aren’t any about the all unattractive male directors. But read any interview about Gilroy or a writer like Benioff and their looks are mentioned. People assume actors are going to be good looking but writers, directors or producers?

That said, I assume she and Lee are friends/friendly so she couldn’t care less about his “joke.”

I was more offended by other things he has said in the past. He has issues.

Kate February 1, 2010 at 11:53 AM

If Bigelow were unattractive, that would be all we’d hear about– the ugly woman with the beautiful talent. Also, I think people/committees/whatever would be far less likely to applaud her, because it’s one thing to “let in” the pretty lady but quite another to have to be around a hag (not my perspective, of course, but that’s how some pricks think).

If the question is whether or not a woman can be judged based on her skill, obviously, no, she can’t win. Luckily, after last night, the question of whether women can win at all has a different answer!

Chris Evans February 1, 2010 at 12:02 PM

“People are obsessed with looks in front and behind the camera. If Bigelow was ugly there would be no comments as there aren’t any about the all unattractive male directors.”

Um, I don’t agree with that at all. If she were ugly there’d be just as many comments about that, if not more.

Debbie February 1, 2010 at 12:02 PM

Congratulations Kathryn…a well deserved win!

sally February 1, 2010 at 12:56 PM

I agree that people feel they have to say something about her looks. It really puts a lot of people in an awkward position (sarcasm) to write about a woman at an awards program without mentioning dress or looks.

I really appreciate her looks in a different way. She is one of the few photographed women that is not simpering or hanging on a date or posing with one leg bent to her good side.

She takes up space. She stands as a woman who is unambivalent about being a woman. She’s not sorry she is not a twenties “girl” or the “It girl.” When she poses, it doesn’t look like she’s angling for a show on Maxim. And it’s hard to imagine she is cloyingly apologetic about age, weight, and accomplishment. Yet she is majestic.

When a girl sees that, it is aspirational to want to be her age and at her level of accomplishment and since it didn’t happen at 29, something to actually look forward to. That being a woman and becoming older can be a great thing. To too many girls and women, the internal unspoken message is that it is sort of over at 30 or 40 or at least “unfun and unfresh”, and beyond that, you better have kids or grandkids. Too few imagine being owners, directors, leaders of teams of creation and accomplishing into the ages you see men do and continuing to having thriving, exciting work.

katie February 1, 2010 at 2:12 PM

Thanks DarthVelma I was going to mention that. Not only was Valentina Tereshkova the first women in space but it was in 1963 not 1983. The Soviet Union did it 20 years before the US.

I wish the US were at the forefront of so many firsts for women, but we’re not sad to say. The world has had leaders like Golda Mier, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Ghandi, Benazir Bhutto, Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese, Jennifer Smith, and the list goes on and in the US *crickets*.

But hurray for Bigelow. I wasn’t as offended by the comments as others. She is an attractive woman and to me her accomplishments coupled with her image tell young girls they have something to aspire to and yeah that at almost 60 you can do great things with your life and still be vibrant and sexy. Good for her. I guess the comments could be considered demeaning, I just didn’t take them completely that way. I thought her acceptance speech was pure class.

Mike Ward February 1, 2010 at 2:15 PM

Ruby Stillwater –a beautifully-talented woman who happens to be beautiful and talented, but the latter is the point– won a DGA for t.v. several years back on “Six Feet Under.”

And of course, the slant of this story is “it’s so nice to have a looker in the room” always reducing it down to whether a person is visually appealing or not. Wake-up, folks. First of all, a director is behind the camera, so who cares if they look like Yoda or Yasmin Bleeth: it’s about the talent to tell stories and do a great job at it.

It’s not a glass ceiling if we’re going to talk about her looks. When a man wins, do we chat about how much better he’d look in speedos or a g-string? (okay, some people might, but you get my point)

Drop the beauty queen smack talk and talk about the achievement sans packaging.

K Ground February 1, 2010 at 2:21 PM

Mike I couldn’t agree more!

filmmaker February 1, 2010 at 3:23 PM

I had the good fortune to spend a little time with Kathryn Bigelow a couple of years back and can say she is a really authentic and lovely person in addition to her considerable talents as a director. With regard to the ‘looks’ issue, I find it fantastic that people are acknowledging her beauty in addition to her skills. As a filmmaker who happens to be female, your looks are inevitably perceived as being inversely proportional to your talents so we often have to tone down our femininity to be taken seriously. I’m a girl and I love to look like one and I shouldn’t have to give that up to do what I do best, making movies. Kathryn Bigelow is living proof that the two are not mutually exclusive. Finally, I think it awesome that she is noticed for being beautiful despite not being under 45. I am sure she has sacrificed a lot to get here, why should she sacrifice the admiration of being attractive too, that’s not a crime. I am holding my breath until the Oscars! Kathryn, I am soooooo proud of you!!!

katie February 1, 2010 at 4:11 PM

You know what as a woman over 40, after years of seeing the ideal women conveyed by Hollywood as some under 30 beanpole, I happen to be damn proud of the fact that women who have shined this year happen to be over 40 and assertive and sexy. Susan Sarandon on the cover of AARP magazine with a quote of “60 and she still has it, so can you” didn’t offend me at all. And I can’t help but take pride in the fact that it’s Bigelow, Mo’Nique, Streep, Bullock, Marguiles, Hargitay, Kendrick, Glenn Close who have gotten the spotlight this year over the likes of Winslet, Witherspoon, and the likes, for a change.

I don’t believe people like Lee Daniels, Renner disrespect Bigelow. Could their comments have been more “professional” and seen as less sexist yeah, but sorry I don’t find a women almost 60 being referred to as sexy that offensive. If I felt that was all they were attributing to her(and not her talent) I’d be pissed but not hearing their full statements, just a quote from each is the same thing many of these news programs do when quoting politicians. You have no way of knowing the entire context in which the stmts were made.

Debbie February 1, 2010 at 4:25 PM

“Kathryn Bigelow is living proof that the two (beauty and intelligence)are not mutually exclusive”

I agree with that comment 100% and it sends a powerful image to young women (and men). It isn’t game over at 40. She seemed like a lovely person when I saw her speak at a screening. Sometimes men think they’re being complimentary when they mention a woman’s looks. They don’t understand there is an appropriate time and place for that (hint: it’s not when you’re being handing the best director award). I also think they’re floored she looks so amazing at 58. Me too. I hope I look that good.

katie February 1, 2010 at 4:33 PM

Does it help if I say I think her ex husband James Cameron almost 10 years younger than Bigelow looks like complete and utter crap. I’ve actually seen a lot of comments from folks about how crappy Cameron looks.

filmmaker February 1, 2010 at 4:45 PM

LOL! Katie. Yes, it’s been surprising that his appearance has gotten comments as well. Yes, a haircut and some exercise might serve him well. I guess the playing field is leveling out a bit in terms of expectations of appearance, but just a very little bit. Although James Cameron isn’t terribly likable, I am glad he has been gracious about her accomplishment.

I just hope members of the academy fall in line. I think it is a huge testament to the power of the film that it is being acknowledged despite not being a blockbuster financially…. yet. Hopefully all this attention will get people watching it.

Mike Ward : I wish all the execs in Hollywood thought like you… it’s true, our breasts don’t get in the way of the viewfinder! :-)

Melissa Silverstein February 1, 2010 at 5:22 PM

I just really wanted to thank EVERYONE for their awesome comments on this topic. I am so psyched for the great conversations we are having. You all rock. Melissa

Melissa Silverstein February 1, 2010 at 5:26 PM

My bad- thanks for the correction, will change it on the blog.

E. Morgan February 1, 2010 at 8:44 PM

I don’t love the Lee Daniels comment but the fact is she won for her talent and people recognize that.

And I love that people are talking about her looks. She’s almost 60 and she looks healthy, happy, and regal. I think that’s incredible and aligns directly with this trend of older movie stars like Meryl and Sandra opening movies.

Chris Evans February 2, 2010 at 2:56 AM

Okay, and what if she were 60 and DIDN’T look as fantastic as she does? The point is, it shouldn’t even be relevant, especially for someone who works behind the camera. I’m tired of a world where a woman could be a fucking Astrophysicist and it still not matter because she’s not “hot” enough. The fact that Lee Daniels is gay makes his preoccupation with her looks even more offensive to me, not less.

Steve Rowland February 2, 2010 at 1:20 PM

I’m absolutely thrilled beyond words that Kathyrn Bigelow won the DGA award. I have always admired her talent. For me it started with “Point Break.” “The Hurt Locker” in my opinion, stands out as the most important film of 2009. It overwhelmed me.
Yes, Kathyrn Bigelow is a very pretty woman, but it’s her creative talent that towers above all else–and it’s that what matters.

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