The History of Women Nominated for the Best Director Oscar
Much to our gender’s collective dismay, the history of women in the Oscars’ Best Director race is short—very short.
As the 2018 ceremony marks 90 years of the Academy Awards, it’s hard to believe that in the same nine decades only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director. The first and only female winner of the Oscar for Best Director is Kathryn Bigelow, who made history with The Hurt Locker at the 2010 ceremony.
Despite the discouraging statistics, nominee no. 5 is giving us reason to believe that the largely “all-male” category may be about to change its stripes.
On Tuesday morning, 34-year-old debut director Greta Gerwig checked her phone to learn some exciting news: she’d been nominated for an Oscar—two, in fact. The Lady Bird writer and director is nominated for both Best Director (excuse me, “Best Achievement in Directing”) and Best Original Screenplay.
Gerwig, who’s best known for her acclaimed performances in Frances Ha and 20th Century Women, spent her hours post-Oscar nom “in various states of laughing and crying and yelling with joy,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I can’t believe it!” she gushed. “There are so many great films this year, and to be included among them as a woman means so much … The women who have been filmmakers who are both my peers and the ones who have come before me have meant so much to me, and they’re the reason that I found the courage to do this. When I think about it—and I think about women of all ages—I hope that they look at this and they think, ‘I’m going to go make my movie. I just keep feeling like I want more female storytellers and I want it quite selfishly because I want to see their stories. I want to watch their movies.”
Since Bigelow’s win in 2010, no other woman has been nominated for Best Director—yep, that’s eight years (count 'em) with zero female representation.
In 1977, Lina Wertmüller became the first woman to be nominated for Best Director in the Oscars’ 48-year history with Italian film Seven Beauties (Pasqualino Settebellezze).Wertmüller ultimately lost to Rocky director John G. Avildsen, and it would be another 17 years until a second woman received the nomination.
In 1994, Jane Campion was nominated for the Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel led film The Piano. Although she lost the Best Director award to Steven Spielberg, Campion did receive an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
A full decade later, Sofia Coppola was nominated for Lost in Translation. Like Campion before her, Coppola lost the Best Director prize (to Roman Polanski) but won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
At long last, 2010’s ceremony ended the 81-year Oscar drought female directors had been discouraged by since the dawn of the industry. It was a massive step for women in Hollywood, but the progress seemed to exist in a vacuum, as no woman was nominated for Best Director for eight years, a streak that ended with 2018’s groundbreaking Oscar nominations.
This year, in addition to Greta, Get Out director Jordan Peele was also nominated for Best Director, making history as the fifth black person to be nominated for the awards (though sadly no black woman director has yet to crack the category, and no black man has ever won the award).
Perhaps history will be made once more at the 90th Annual Academy Awards on March 4. Until then, fingers crossed!