Only 7 Women Have Ever Been Nominated for Best Director at the Oscars—Here Are Their Films & Where to Watch Them
It’s no secret that the Academy Awards has often functioned like a (white) boys’ club for American motion pictures. And while the Academy has tried to spread the love in recent years (quite slowly we might add), one area in which we’re seeing some positive changes is the Best Director category.
After Bong Joon-ho became the first South Korean to win the prize last year for Parasite, the nominees for Best Director at the 93rd Oscar’s ceremony include another breakthrough: two women nominees.
Since the first golden statuettes were handed out in 1929, the Oscars have recognized the directors of 457 different movies. Among those 457 films, only seven of them were directed by women. On top of that, among the 72 directors and directing teams that have taken home the trophy, only ONE woman has ever been awarded the prize.
So, before we finish our ballots and tune into the Oscars on April 25, 2021, we wanted to recognize those seven groundbreaking women who have been honored for their directing talents (and also acknowledge all the talent that’s been overlooked for decades). We have compiled a list of these nominees’ movies and where you can stream them online.
1. Lina Wertmüller – ‘Seven Beauties’ (1975)
It only took 47 years, but Lina Wertmüller became the first woman nominated for Best Director for her dark comedy Seven Beauties. This Italian-language film (which was also written and produced by Wertmüller), stars Giancarlo Giannini as Pasqualino, a foolish everyman who stumbles through a fascist countryside trying to defend his family’s honor. While Wertmüller made history with her nomination, she also turned the project into a family affair, using her husband, Enrico Job, for production design and costume design.
2. Jane Campion – ‘The Piano’ (1993)
After Wertmüller’s history-making nom, it was almost 20 years before another woman was recognized for directing. This time, the nod went to Jane Campion for her haunting romantic drama The Piano. Featuring a bravura performance from Holly Hunter, as well as the debut of True Blood's Anna Paquin, the movie follows a mute pianist who moves to New Zealand with her daughter as a part of an arranged marriage, but quickly finds herself caught between two men. The movie was written, directed and produced by Campion, and while she didn’t receive the Best Director prize, she won for Best Original Screenplay, while Hunter and Paquin both took home Oscars for their performances.
3. Sofia Coppola – ‘Lost in Translation’ (2003)
Sofia Coppola is the daughter of esteemed filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (who made a little movie called The Godfather). But when Coppola burst onto the scene as a filmmaker, she made a name all for herself. Her feature film debut, The Virgin Suicides, was a critical success that quickly achieved cult-classic status. Four years later, Coppola followed her directing debut with Lost in Translation, a romantic dramedy featuring Bill Murray as a middle-aged actor going through an identity crisis who befriends a recent Yale graduate (played by Scarlett Johansson) while in Tokyo. Just like Campion, Coppola was bested in the director category, but she took home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
4. Kathryn Bigelow – ‘The Hurt Locker’ (2009)
And finally, we have a winner! Kathryn Bigelow, the fourth woman ever nominated for Best Director, was also the first (and so far, only) woman to win. Bigelow’s gripping war thriller follows the psychological reactions of an explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) unit in the Iraq War. The film features some major names, like Jeremy Renner and Ralph Fiennes, and it also took home statues for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. While Bigelow is the only woman to have won the Best Director prize, she is also the only woman to have directed a Best Picture winner the same year.
5. Greta Gerwig – ‘Lady Bird’ (2017)
We don’t know when Greta Gerwig sleeps. When she’s not playing laugh-out-loud roles in our favorite rom-coms (No Strings Attached), she’s busy writing remakes of our favorite books (Little Women). But if that’s not enough, Gerwig also has a knack for directing, and her coming-of-age hit Lady Bird struck a chord with audiences and critics alike, making her the fifth woman nominated for the coveted prize. Led by Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, the indie comedy follows the rebellious “Lady Bird,” a teen with Kool Aid-colored hair who is just trying to sidestep the perils of high school, while also navigating her tense relationship with her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf).
6. Emerald Fennell – ‘Promising Young Woman’ (2020)
After the 93rd Academy Award nominations were announced in March 2021, two more women joined this impressive list. The first is Emerald Fennell (who you might know as Camilla Parker Bowles on The Crown), whose bracing black comedy Promising Young Woman has been met with universal praise. Fennell (who was also nominated for her original screenplay) crafts the story of Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan), a 30-something coffee shop worker who finds herself on a mission to avenge the sexual assault of her friend. Along with Fennell’s noms, the movie is up for three other awards at the 2021 ceremony, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Mulligan.
7. Chloé Zhao – ‘Nomadland’ (2020)
Finally, we have Chloé Zhao, who made history at this year’s Golden Globes as the second woman and first woman of Asian descent to take home the globe for Best Director. Now, Zhao is blazing trails once again, as the first Asian woman to be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards. Adapted from the 2017 book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Zhao’s film follows Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman who travels across the U.S. amidst the Great Recession after losing her husband and watching her hometown crumble. Zhao has the potential to win big at this year’s ceremony, where she is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.
Want to stay up-to-date on all things entertainment? Subscribe here.