And then came the capper: Kathryn Bigelow’s triumphant win at the Oscars for Best Director, the first for a woman in its 82-year history. Even though Kathryn famously doesn’t self-identify as a gender-based director, and her work has been decidedly action based (or, as one female critic put it, “masterly”), every woman and girl I know was rooting for her as a role model. We all knew what this meant, as you could hear in the exclamation of the presenter, Barbra Streisand, who called out, upon her win, “The time has come!” Streisand endured brutal sexism in her early efforts at breaking the directing glass ceiling, even though at the time she was one of the biggest stars in the world.
But surprisingly, Kathryn’s win set off a torrent of sniping among the chattering class of women critics. Instead of celebrating this year’s impressive box office numbers, and our all-too-few female directors (and even fewer writer-directors), it served as a launching pad for attacks on the romantic comedy.
The implication was that Kathryn is cool because she doesn’t make “chick flicks,” the kinds of movies that women have been flocking to malls to see – and that I make and have been making for over 20 years. The “chick flick,” a genre I love, defend, and honor—as do almost all the girls who rooted so hard for Kathryn’s win (no matter how she self-identifies)—can’t be killed by a stick or a pen, even if it is detested by critics. Just like Horror or Action or Thriller or Sci-fi or Fantasy, the genre is here to stay.
I’ve known Kathryn since 1983 when we were both starting out in LA about the same time. We were in a beginning gymnastics class together, both of us jocks, she the super-tall one, and me the pint-sized one. We got on great, as we are both girls’ girls. I had worked on Flashdance and Adventures in Babysitting, and I knew that her then-boyfriend Jim Cameron was trying to help her get an action movie made. It seemed normal to me that she made action films—my then-partner, Debra Hill, had made Halloween and Escape from New York. It never crossed our minds that there was some kind of chasm between the kinds of movies we made, and we certainly never saw ourselves in different worlds.
But the writers now extolling Ms. Bigelow scoff at the “ghetto” they call the romantic comedy, which they claim “entraps” so much of Hollywood’s female talent. Yet this “ghetto” is like Scarsdale for us. It’s a suburban community where we can work steadily when the market kindly allows. It’s where women play the lead, and get to be the one with the coming-of-age story. That these tales are now being financed by the studio system reflects the fact that our audience loves seeing themselves not as girlfriends, or sluts, or baggage, or dumb hos (as in Heather Graham’s hilarious Hangover girlfriend), but as protagonists with real dialogue, and jokes we are not the butt of.