Since the first Academy Awards in 1929, there have been 453 nominations for Best Director (a varying range for the first eight ceremonies totalling 33 nominations in all and a standard five starting in 1936 for another 420). Women have reaped just five of these Best Director nominations. That is about one-tenth of one percent (.01103752759 to be precise). Nine men earned more than five nominations apiece led by William Wyler with 12 (he won three). And John Ford went a record four for five.
But in 2021 we could see three women number among the five nominees for Best Director: Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”) sits atop our Best Director chart, Regina King (“One Night in Miami”) is a solid third, and Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) is seventh but on the rise. All three recently reaped bids at the Golden Globes.
On the cusp of a new Oscars record being set in Best Director with multiple women nominated in a year let’s look back at the first five female directors to break the glass ceiling at the Academy Awards.
The first woman nominated for Best Director was the Italian helmer Lina Wertmuller for “Seven Beauties” in 1976: she lost to John G. Avildsen who directed the Best Picture “Rocky”;
Seventeen laters, Jane Campion contended for “The Piano”; she lost to Steven Spielberg who directed the 1993 Best Picture “Schindler’s List”;
A decade later Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”) was bested by Peter Jackson who directed the Best Picture winner “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”;
In 2009, Kathryn Bigelow made history with her win for directing the first female-led Best Picture winner “The Hurt Locker”; and
And in 2017 Greta Gerwig was nominated for “Little Women”; she lost to Guillermo del Toro who directed the Best Picture winner “The Shape of Water.”
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