Oscars Make History By Nominating Multiple Women for Best Director

For the first time in Oscars history, multiple women are competing in the Best Director race in the same year.

Nominees for the 93rd Academy Awards were announced on Monday morning, and Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell's names were among those read in the directing category. Zhao is up for her work in the critically acclaimed Nomadland, and Fennell could win for helming Promising Young Woman. Right now, Zhao is generally considered the frontrunner in the Best Director field, especially coming off of her recent win for Best Director - Motion Picture at the Golden Globes.

Notably, Zhao is the first woman of color to ever be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars. This year, she and Fennell are competing against David Fincher for Mank, Lee Isaac Chung for Minari and Thomas Vinterberg for Another Round.

Women Make History With 2021 Oscars Nominations
A display case is seen full of Oscar statues February 20, 2004, in Hollywood, California. Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Since its inception in 1929, the Academy Awards have notoriously failed to recognize women in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever received nominations for the award before Zhao and Fennell caught the attention of the Academy this year, and only one woman has ever actually won the award.

Before Monday, Greta Gerwig was the most recent woman to be nominated for Best Director—she was recognized at the 2018 Oscars ceremony for her coming-of-age film Lady Bird. She was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, however, she lost both races to Guillermo del Toro and Jordan Peele, who claimed the awards for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, respectively.

Eight years before Gerwig's nomination, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to ever win the Oscar for Best Director, for her war drama The Hurt Locker. Bigelow—one of the few women to ever be nominated in the Golden Globes' Best Director category as well—took home the award over her ex-husband James Cameron, who was nominated for his work on the blockbuster film Avatar. Quentin Tarantino, Lee Daniels and Jason Reitman also lost to Biglow at the 2010 Oscars.

Sofia Coppola was nominated for Best Director at the 2004 Oscars, for her film Lost in Translation, starring Scarlet Johansson and Bill Murray. Peter Jackson collected the trophy that year, for directing The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but Coppola still picked up an award for Best Original Screenplay.

For her directorial effort, the 1993 period drama The Piano, New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion was a Best Director nominee at the 1994 Oscars. While she didn't take home the golden statue for that category—Steven Spielberg did for Schindler's List—Campion did win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Fellow New Zealander Anna Paquin, who starred in The Piano, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that year as well. Paquin was just 11 years old at the time.

Years earlier, Italian-born Lina Wertmüller became the first woman to ever receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director, in 1977, for her dramatic comedy Seven Beauties. Wertmüller lost to John G. Avildsen for Rocky. In 2019, the Academy rewarded Wertmüller with an Honorary Award, for her decades-long career in the film industry.

This year's Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, April 25.