Make no mistake about it: the Academy Awards is the ultimate boys club. In the 89-year history of the ceremony, there have only been four women nominated for the Best Director Oscar, and only one — Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) — has prevailed. To put it another way, William Wyler himself has 12 Best Director nominations — that’s three times the number of every female director throughout film history. This year there are a handful of women looking to hear their names called as Best Director nominees, with Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) having the best shot, according to Gold Derby’s Oscar predictions.
Gerwig earned stellar reviews for her directorial debut “Lady Bird,” a coming-of-age story starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf as a complex daughter and mother. The Critics’ Choice Awards nominated Gerwig as Best Director, and she even won the National Board of Review. Gerwig is in prime position to earn a 2018 Oscar nomination for Best Director, with other potential female nominees including Sofia Coppola (“The Beguiled”), Dee Rees (“Mudbound”), Patty Jenkins (“Wonder Woman”), Kathryn Bigelow (“Detroit”) and Angelina Jolie (“First They Killed My Father”).
Below, our writer Kevin Jacobsen looks back at the four women who’ve been nominated for Best Director. Will Oscar voters nominate a fifth female director this year?
Lina Wertmuller, “Seven Beauties” (1976) — Italian director Lina Wertmuller made history as the first woman ever nominated for Best Director at the Oscars. Not only did Wertmüller overcome the odds as a woman but her film, “Seven Beauties,” about an Italian soldier in World War II who is captured by Germans, was in a foreign language — Italian. She lost to John G. Avildsen for “Rocky.”
Jane Campion, “The Piano” (1993) — New Zealand’s Jane Campion was the second woman nominated for Best Director, for 1993’s “The Piano,” about a mute piano player. She lost to Steven Spielberg for “Schindler’s List” but did not go home empty-handed, as she won the Best Original Screenplay award. She also directed Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin to Oscar wins in Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.
Sofia Coppola “Lost in Translation” (2003) — Sofia Coppola was the first American woman nominated for Best Director. Her 2003 film “Lost in Translation,” centering on two strangers who bond in the chaos of Tokyo, unfortunately had to compete against “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” As such, Coppola lost Best Director to Peter Jackson, but like Campion, she did pick up the Best Original Screenplay Oscar.
Kathryn Bigelow “The Hurt Locker” (2009) — Kathryn Bigelow did what Wermuller, Campion and Coppola could not, becoming the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director. Prevailing for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker,” about a team of Iraqi soldiers who specialize in explosives, she also became the first woman to direct a Best Picture-winning film. She came close to being nominated again in 2012 for “Zero Dark Thirty,” but was shockingly overlooked.
Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.