On Sunday night, I sat in my dorm’s common room with my eyes glued to the TV and watched Ben Affleck win a Best Picture Oscar for Argo. While it wasn’t my favorite Best Picture nominee,Argo was a solid piece of entertainment, and I would have rooted for any film that upset Lincoln. And so, along with seemingly everyone else in the universe, I cheered my support, thrilled that Affleck’s win finally gave him the credit he deserved after being snubbed for Best Director by the Academy all those weeks ago. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder why Affleck’s snub was the only one to be so publicly rectified, or even recognized at all. It seemed that the Academy, along with much of the Twitter-posting, Entertainment Weekly-reading public, completely forgot about another person notably and unfairly snubbed by Oscar –Kathryn Bigelow.
To refresh your recollection, Kathryn Bigelow, like Ben Affleck, was left off the nominations list for Best Director when it was released in January. She, like Affleck, was considered a frontrunner for the award, and so her snub, like Affleck’s, came as a huge shock to everyone who’d been predicting the nominations. For weeks, critics had been raving about Zero Dark Thirty, giving particular praise to Bigelow’s impressively commanding direction. Even amidst the controversy over the film’s depiction of torture, Bigelow consistently ranked as one of the year’s best directors, her name resting comfortably at the top of seemingly every critic’s nominee prediction list. The same went for Affleck, whose impressive work directing Argo was expected by all to be honored by the Academy come February. Yet on January 10, when the nominations were announced, two names were notably missing – Affleck’s and Bigelow’s.
Immediately afterwards, critics and commentators took to the blogs, expressing their outrage and bafflement over the omissions. They criticized the Academy for ignoring the achievements of such talented directors, saying that Affleck and Bigelow’s snubs were two of the most egregious in Oscar history. Yet in the weeks that followed, something odd happened. As the pity mounted for Affleck, Argo gained momentum, and by the middle of February, the film was widely considered the frontrunner for Best Picture. Meanwhile, the public all but forgot about Kathryn Bigelow’s equally outrageous snub, and both she and her film, Zero Dark Thirty, once leaders in the Oscar race, disappeared from our collective memories.
I’m not quite sure why this happened, but I know that it was wrong. Bigelow was every bit as deserving of a Best Director nomination as Affleck, and so there was absolutely no reason she shouldn’t have received the same support that he did once the omissions were revealed. Over the weeks between that announcement and Oscar night, Bigelow didn’t do or say even one thing that could have jeopardized her standing with supporters. Rather, she did the complete opposite – she stood tall, held her ground, and rooted for her movie to succeed, even if she wasn’t given the chance to herself.
This isn’t to say that because of Bigelow’s snub, Zero Dark Thirty should have automatically won Best Picture. It’s understandable that regardless of who was nominated for Best Director, the Academy might have ultimately awarded the crowd-pleasing Argo with Best Picture over the brutal, torture-showing Zero Dark Thirty. History shows that Oscar voters tend to shy away from controversy in favor of more entertaining fare. Despite this, however, Bigelow’s snub should have substantially bolstered the film over the last few weeks, giving it the momentum to, if not win, reclaim its status as a formative competitor. Bigelow herself should have benefited from the snub, eliciting the kind of media attention and public support that fell upon Ben Affleck.
Maybe it’s because Bigelow, unlike Affleck, has won Best Director before. While several directors have been given the honor more than once, perhaps it was felt that her snub, while wrong, was more acceptable than Affleck’s because she had already been nominated once prior. Perhaps people felt less inspired by Bigelow’s story; she’s a successful filmmaker whose work has frequently received critical acclaim, while Affleck’s recent transition from B-list actor/tabloid fodder to respected director is the kind of rags-to-riches story that Hollywood eats up. After all, everyone loves the underdog, and Affleck, whose win for Good Will Hunting was a long fifteen years ago, fits the bill perfectly. There are a multitude of reasons that could possibly explain why Affleck’s snub gained him popularity while Bigelow’s snub went unnoticed; I just don’t think any of them are fair.
Kathryn Bigelow has a lot to be proud of, despite the lack of support for her missing nomination. She directed one of the best films of the year, held her own in the face of controversy, and proved, once again, that she’s a powerful role model for women everywhere. Hopefully, her snub only motivated her to continue doing what she does best – making movies that are challenging, provocative, and important. I don’t doubt that she’ll be up on that Oscar stage again before long. If for some reason she isn’t, however, I can only hope that we, as the public, remember our responsibility to care.
This article was originally posted on TheReelist.com.