Last year’s list of Best Director nominees was exclusively male, which many felt was a snub to a number of female filmmakers that had been in the running. But this year may see a turning point for an awards show that has not always recognized women directors. In the entire history of the Academy Awards, a mere five women have received nods in the category. And of them, there has only been one winner, which was Kathryn Bigelow. This year may flip the script, though, with continued buzz about a number of female directors and their chances of landing a nomination. In the words of Variety, “could we be in store for a directing lineup where the women outnumber the men?” Only time will tell, but you can read up on some of the most buzzed-about women in the Best Director race in the meanwhile, including a look at some of their previous work.
Regina King for One Night in Miami
The period piece is a fictional account inspired by true events that imagines what transpired during a meeting between Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Muhammed Ali (Eli Goree), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) in the midst of the civil rights movement. It’s King’s film directorial debut, and she’s making waves with it right out of the gate, with Vogue naming her “the most talked-about new director in Hollywood.”
The filmmaker is well-known for her role as an actor in films such as Boyz n the Hood, Friday, Jerry Maguire, and Ray. As for recent awards, she won an Oscar in 2019 for her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk and an Emmy last year for Watchmen.
Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman
Besides directing it, Fennell also wrote the film, which follows the story of a woman named Cassie (Carey Mulligan), who dropped out of med school after a traumatic incident. She now lives with her parents and works at a coffee shop by day, but by night, she pursues her real mission. That is, Cassie sniffs out predatory men so that she can confront them with their behavior and teach them a lesson about consent. This is Fennell’s feature directorial debut, and like King, she’s also known for her work in front of the camera. Fennell can be seen as Camilla Parker Bowles on The Crown, and she’s also well-known for her work as Nurse Patsy on Call the Midwife. Additionally, the multi-hyphenate has written for the acclaimed series Killing Eve, eventually becoming a co-showrunner of its second season.
Chloé Zhao for Nomadland
On top of her director credit, Zhao also claimed a screenwriting one for adapting the film from author Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction work. Nomadland follows Fern (Frances McDormand) a widower who decides to live out of her van after an economic collapse. The film includes other transient characters that Fern meets along the way, featuring a number of real-life people who identify as nomads. Zhao is receiving a lot of critical praise for pulling off such a feat, success that may come as no surprise considering her previous, well-received films Songs My Brother Taught Me and The Rider. Plus, with her director credit for the upcoming Marvel film The Eternals, she’s helping make strides for inclusion within the historically male-dominated super hero genre.
Kelly Reichardt for First Cow
The A24 indie follows Cookie (John Magaro) a taciturn cook that travels west in 1820s America and connects with a Chinese immigrant named King (Orion Lee), with whom he collaborates on a successful business endeavor that involves stolen cow milk. As well as directing the film, Reichardt also adapted the screenplay for it from a novel by Jon Raymond. First Cow recently won at the New York Film Critics Circle, and coming off that success, Variety asserts that Reichardt may be “vying for one of the five spots for best director.” She is known for her work in the indie world and has more than twenty years of filmmaking experience to her name that includes titles like Old Joy, Night Moves, Wendy and Lucy, and Certain Women.
We’ll have to wait until March 15 when this year’s Oscar nominations are announced to find out if King, Fennell, Zhao, and Reichardt make the Best Director nominees list. But regardless, we’re celebrating some critically-acclaimed work from four female filmmakers who are helping the industry move towards a more inclusive future.