Female directors rightfully dominate the Oscars 2021 season and make history

Only one woman has ever won an Oscar for directing—which female directors will break the curse on Sunday?

Regina King poses at the 91st Annual Academy Awards
(Image credit: Steve Granitz/Getty Images)

The Best Director category at the Oscars—hell, at most award shows—is a veritable boys' club, with your usual crew of Tarantinos and Scorseses all accounted for. Until now, that is. 

Throughout the 2021 awards season—all leading up to the big event, the 93rd Academy Awards this Sunday—female directors have made history by scoring multiple Best Director nominations from prestigious award bodies like the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and, yes, the Oscars. 

Female directors took up a record-breaking three slots out of five in the Best Director category at this year's Globes Globes: Regina King (One Night in Miami), Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) each got their due props in the category, alongside David Fincher (Mank) and Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7).

Four women out of six nominees were distinguished for directing at the BAFTAs, the highest number of female filmmakers in the British Academy's 74-year history. Joining Zhao were Shannon Murphy for Babyteeth, Jasmine Zbanic for Quo Vadis, Aida? and Sarah Gavron for Rocks.

Chloé Zhao won both the Globe and the BAFTA, and is the frontrunner to win at this year's Oscars. If Zhao does take the coveted statue home Sunday night, she'll not only be the first Asian woman and woman of color to win for Best Director, she'll also be just the second female director to win ever

With Emerald Fennell also nominated for Promising Young Woman, this is the first time in Oscars history that multiple female directors have been shortlisted in a given year. The much-deserved nods boost a pretty dismal nomination record for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Before this year, only five female directors in 92 years have ever been nominated in the Best Director category at the Oscars: Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow and Greta Gerwig. Bigelow is the only woman to have ever won the accolade, for The Hurt Locker in 2009.

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The nomination news is especially welcome after last year's ceremony, which saw no women in the director category, a surprise and snub given the quality of films they generated, including Greta Gerwig's Little Women, Lulu Wang's The Farewell, Lorene Scarfaria's Hustlers, and Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Before Gerwig's nod for Lady Bird in 2017, it had been eight whole years since a woman was nominated in the category. 

“Congratulations to those men,” actress Issa Rae pointedly said when announcing the 2020 nominees for Best Director. In 2018, Natalie Portman also memorably called out the "all-male nominees" while presenting the Best Director award with Ron Howard at the Golden Globes.

Hopefully one day we'll get to hear presenters announce a director's category of "all-female nominees," but this year's great news is definitely a start!

Christina Izzo

Christina Izzo is the Deputy Editor of My Imperfect Life. 

More generally, she is a writer-editor covering food and drink, travel, lifestyle and culture in New York City. She was previously the Features Editor at Rachael Ray In Season and Reveal, as well as the Food & Drink Editor and chief restaurant critic at Time Out New York

When she’s not doing all that, she can probably be found eating cheese somewhere.