Oscar spotlight: Gina Prince-Bythewood (‘The Woman King’) could make history with a nomination for Best Director

Gina Prince-Bythewood has a relatively small but nonetheless excellent array of feature films attached to her resume. However, what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. Prince-Bythewood has been directing quality films for over two decades, but she has made an indelible mark with her action period piece “The Woman King.” With such classics to her credit as “Love and Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” and now this, she has cemented her status as a director worthy of awards attention.

On paper, Prince-Bythewood has checked all the appropriate boxes to take “The Woman King” to the major award ceremonies this season, particularly the Oscars. The film has outstanding action sequences and fight scenes, reminiscent of the work done in Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator.” She has also managed to obtain some of the strongest performances in the careers of the film’s actors. However, she does face obstacles that could prevent her from coming to the ceremony as a first-time Best Director nominee.

In the 94-year history of the Oscars, only six Black men have had the distinction of being nominated for Best Director — and no women. John Singleton, before the tender age of 30, became a first-time nominee for the now-classic “Boyz N the Hood.” It would then be nearly two decades before another Black man would be nominated for his work: Lee Daniels for his gritty achievement on “Precious.” Steve McQueen followed for his work on “12 Years a Slave.” Barry Jenkins would go on to be recognized for his superlative direction on “Moonlight,” then Jordan Peele for his dynamic directorial debut on “Get Out,” and lastly Spike Lee for his outstanding work on “BlackKlansman.”

Those Black directors deserved their nominations, but to date no Black person has ever won in this category. This is what makes it such an uphill battle for Prince-Bythewood. She has turned in an outstanding directorial achievement, but will the academy agree and grant her a historic nomination as the first Black woman recognized for Best Director? As of this writing, no major industry awards have announced nominations yet. So “The Woman King” could yet prove to be a major awards player this season, which could ultimately land Prince-Bythewood in the history books in the process.

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