If there’s one thing you can say about Kathryn Bigelow it’s that she doesn’t back down.
The enigmatic filmmaker is the first — and still only — woman to ever win the Academy Award for Best Director (2008’s “The Hurt Locker”). She makes brave choices in the scripts she brings to life (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Detroit”), and possesses a keen eye for visual aesthetics and imagery (“Near Dark,” “Strange Days”).
But when people talk about Kathryn Bigelow, they tend to focus on the controversy surrounding some of her films or the movies that didn’t quite jolt the Tomatometer.
Fiercely independent in her life and her work, Bigelow is not your average wallflower, even if she claims to be seriously shy.
She was born and raised in Northern California. Her films bend toward macho genres and masculine themes, and she always elicits a lot of flack — some deserved, some misplaced — for her choices.
There seems to be little gray area with Bigelow. Maybe that’s because what we do know about her largely comes from her body of work. She is intensely private and somewhat confounding. She is also widely admired, deservedly so. And when it comes to art, no matter the medium, criticism is always following close behind.
Growing Up Fast
Bigelow was born on Nov. 27, 1951 in San Carlos, Calif., and is the only child of Gertrude and Ronald Bigelow. She once told the Guardian that her folks took a rather progressive path to child rearing by letting Bigelow “make all my own decisions.”
“If a friend said, ‘Can you sleep over?’ I’d go to my parents and they’d say, ‘Well, it’s up to you,’” she said. “It was always up to me. It created a tremendous sense of independence.”
Bigelow’s parents were also creative. Her mother, a Stanford graduate, was an English teacher and librarian, while her father was a paint factory manager who also drew cartoons.
“His dream was being a cartoonist, but he never achieved it,” she said of her father. “I think part of my interest in art had to do with his yearning for something he could never have.”
That interest first led Bigelow to the San Francisco Art Institute in the late 1960s. She would then move to New York on a Whitney Museum fellowship, eventually ending up at Columbia University and finding her calling behind the camera.