Why the Personal Lives of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal Don't Matter in the Oscar Race (Analysis)

The writer/producer and director/producer each won two Oscars for their first collaboration, "The Hurt Locker," and could win two more for "Zero Dark Thirty" -- regardless of whether they dated.
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On Tuesday, Buzzfeed's chief Los Angeles correspondent Kate Aurthur posted a piece with the headline "Zero Dark Thirty Filmmakers Keep Breakup Quiet in Oscar Campaign." In keeping with the hyperbole of the awards season in which Zero Dark Thirty is now a leading contender, allow me to call this -- with all due respect, of course -- one of the biggest non-stories of the year.

The gist of Aurthur's piece is that writer/producer Mark Boal and director/producer Kathryn Bigelow, who collaborated on (and supposedly were romantically involved during the making of) 2009 best picture Oscar winner The Hurt Locker, and who re-teamed for (and supposedly broke up during the making of) the 2012 best picture Oscar contender Zero Dark Thirty, are trying to keep a lid on their relationship. The main reason that she gives: fear that widespread knowledge of that fact would somehow jeopardize their otherwise surging awards prospects.

This is absurd for a number of reasons.

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Why would the status of their relationship, whatever it is, have any impact the Oscar prospects of Zero Dark Thirty? Did The Hurt Locker win best picture three awards seasons ago because they were together? Of course not. And if Academy members find out that they once dated but have since broken up, why would that impact the way voters evaluate their film? It's not like they aren't on speaking terms with one another or one of them is publicly trashing the other or the film. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. Rather than keeping their distance from one another, they have insisted on being paired together for the vast majority of their interviews.

Moreover, who cares about any of this? Boal and Bigelow aren't exactly household names. Yes, he is an award-winning war correspondent who also wrote and won the best original screenplay Oscar for Locker, and she is a veteran director who became the first female to ever win a best director Oscar for Locker. But I'm sorry to say that they're just not the sort of people that the general public pays attention to. He's introspective, she's shy, neither oozes charisma, and nobody would ever describe either of them as particularly exciting or controversial. (Trust me, I've interviewed them.) They're just two smart intellectuals who also have a talent for making films.

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Finally, they are and always have been private people who have never attempted to commodify their personal lives for their professional benefit. They never spoke publicly about being together when they allegedly were. They never showed physical affection on their sets, according to colleagues. If they had been more open about their relationship when they supposedly were together, perhaps it would make sense to update people on its status now. But to act like a break-up is news when virtually nobody knew or cared about a relationship strikes me as bizarre.

Of course, now that the status of their relationship has been raised, Boal and Bigelow will likely be asked about it throughout the remainder of the awards season -- probably almost as much as she was asked about competing with her ex-husband James Cameron in the Oscar race three years ago.

But Zero Dark Thirty will rise or fall in this year's Oscar race based on its merits as a film, as well as legitimate topics of debate like the degree to which it implies that torture led to information that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden — not attention-seeking Tweets from the likes of Bret Easton Ellis or illogical posts like the one in Buzzfeed.