In what is shaping up to be an unusual Oscar season — given downsized film festivals and the lack of promotional events and in-theater screenings due to the coronavirus pandemic — it is clear that the 93rd Academy Awards will be far from routine. But the extended season this year (new films will be eligible through February 2021) might benefit female filmmakers. Last year there was some consternation that no woman was nominated in the directing category, including Greta Gerwig for her Best Picture-nominated adaptation of “Little Women.”
But female helmers might be on a more level playing field with male directors given how many films will premiere on streaming sites. Only five women have ever been candidates, with Gerwig being the most recent while Kathryn Bigelow is the lone female winner for her 2009 war film “The Hurt Locker.” Also, there seems to be an abundance of women filmmakers with notable titles in the pipeline.
In our poll that focused on 10 ladies who might make the cut, 57% picked rising star Chloe Zhao as the likeliest to become the sixth woman to break through Oscar’s gender barrier for her film “Nomadland,” which will show at fall festivals in Venice, Toronto and New York. Zhao’s follow-up to 2017’s “The Rider,” her Independent Spirit Award nominee for Best Film and Best Director, stars two-time Best Actress winner Frances McDormand as an older American worker who travels the country in a camper while seeking jobs in the wake of the 2007 Great Recession. On top of that, the Chinese-born director would be the first Asian woman to make the cut, and she has already been recruited to direct the Marvel comic book adventure “Eternals,” which is expected to open next year.
Coming in second is Sofia Coppola, the first American woman and third woman overall to compete for a directing Oscar for 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” with 17% backing her. Her upcoming feature, “On the Rocks,” reunites her with “Translation” leading man Bill Murray for a story about a young mother (Rashida Jones) who reunites with her over-the-top playboy dad as they spend an adventurous day in the Big Apple.
Meanwhile, 10% believe that Regina King, the Oscar-winning supporting actress for “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018) could become the next female to break into the male-dominated category for her feature directing debut, “One Night in Miami.” The title that will have its world premiere at Venice is a fictionalized account of Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke celebrating Clay’s surprise title win over Sonny Liston in a Miami hotel room in 1964. King has been a regular awards magnet in recent years, so it wouldn’t be that shocking if she was lucky number-six. But it would quite remarkably make her the first Black woman ever to earn a directing bid from the motion picture academy.
Earning 5% of the vote is Eliza Hittman, whose third film, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” is about two teen girls who travel to Pennsylvania to seek an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy. The feature had its world premiere at Sundance, won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival and boasts a 99% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Also with 5% is South African-born stage veteran Liesl Tommy, the director of the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect,” which is opening in January with “Dreamgirls” Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson starring.
The blockbuster choices, including Patty Jenkins‘s “Wonder Woman 1984” and Niki Caro‘s “Mulan,” failed to get much support in our poll, earning 3% and 2% respectively for its makers.