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Oscar Makes History: Woman Wins Best Director

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I don't much care whether or not Kathryn Bigelow is a good feminist in "the personal is political" sense of the term: At last night's Academy Awards she won a great victory for all women when she stepped up to the stage to collect her Oscar for Best Director for her film, "The Hurt Locker," which also won the Best Picture award.

It was fitting that Barbra Streisand presented the award to Bigelow for her direction of "The Hurt Locker," a film about a band of soldiers charged with defusing improvised explosive devices in Iraq. In 1983, the iconic singer and actress set Hollywood tongues wagging when she took on directorial duties for her own film, " Yentl," in which she also starred. (Streisand didn't even garner a nomination for her performance in the film, never mind her direction.)

Just before she opened the envelope, the diva noted that this year's Oscar could make history in the Best Director category in one of two ways: If the award went to Bigelow, she would be the first of her sex to land the honor. If it went to Lee Daniels for "Precious," he would have been the first African-American to win the coveted title.

So, when Streisand said, upon breaking the seal on the envelope, "Well, the time has come," she only heightened the suspense, leaving viewers to guess for a moment whether the time would be Bigelow's or Lee's. As in the 2008 presidential primary season, a white woman and a black man competed not only for the top spot in their field, but for a shot at landing in the history books.

Not every feminist is enthusiastic about Bigelow's win. It's a movie for a male audience, they point out. Hardly a female character in the thing. Films that play best with female audiences are rarely taken seriously, they rightly assert. Too pro-military, I've heard others say.

Perhaps. But Bigelow broke the barrier for other women filmmakers. During the presidential campaign, many progressive feminists looked past Hillary Clinton's hawkishness, especially her vote to authorize the Iraq war. Privately, not a few suspected that Clinton's tough foreign-policy stance was taken as a necessary posture especially because she is a woman. (Actually, I think that Clinton is naturally inclined toward a hawkish worldview.)

So, perhaps it had to be that the first woman to win Best Director did so for directing a war film whose characters are virtually all men. But she got across the line, and for the moment, that's what matters.