We’d love to give a big “congratulations!” to all the women nominated for Best Director at the 2019 Academy Awards.
The only problem? We can’t. Because there aren’t any. Once again, the category is overwhelmingly — and frustratingly — male.
It’s not like there weren’t any deserving filmmakers to choose from, either. Marielle Heller’s biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me? received three nominations this year, including one for its screenplay and two for stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, yet no nomination for the director herself. First-time director Josie Rourke’s Mary, Queen of Scots, with Saiorse Ronan in the titular role as the Scottish monarch, courted two Oscar nods for costumes as well as makeup and hairstyling, but nada for Rourke at its helm.
Netflix favorite Bird Box, which apparently amassed over 45 million viewers in its first week on the streaming service, was directed by Susanne Bier. It took the internet by storm, attracting memes, a dangerous set of “challenges,” and a new set of fans for the inimitable Sandra Bullock. And yet, it was still looked over entirely for an Oscar nod just like the other 2018 films by women. The list goes on.
Marielle Heller, speaking to IndieWire, responded to being left out of consideration for the Best Director Oscar with a statement that will no doubt feel disappointing and familiar to women in creative industries like Hollywood.
“People are like, ‘Don’t you feel bad? You were snubbed,'” Heller said. “I was like, I never expected to be nominated. That is the difference.”
Stunningly, in fact, there have only ever been five women nominated for an Academy Award for their directing efforts, and worse still, only a single winner. Since 1929, when the very first Academy Award ceremony was held, brilliant films from female filmmakers have been snubbed. This year’s list of directors is disappointingly bereft of talented women, but it’s a cycle that can — hopefully will — change as more women flex their skills in the director’s chair and smash box-office records in the process.
But to change the future, sometimes you have to look to the past. Ahead of the 91st Academy Awards this Sunday, let’s take a look at the women who made history.
Lina Wertmüller (1977)
Italian director Lina Wertmüller received her nomination for Best Director in 1977 for Seven Beauties (Pasqualine Sette Bellezze). The film followed an Italian man who chose to become an Army deserter during World War II, who’s subsequently captured by Germans and sent to a prison camp. While there, he works tirelessly to escape, and we learn about his checkered past, including his seven sisters and the deeds he performed before volunteering to become a soldier.
Wertmüller’s work on the film nabbed her the first-ever nomination for a female filmmaker, as well as the first female nominee for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film. Though she ultimately lost to John G. Avildsen’s sports classic Rocky, Wertmüller blazed a trail for women’s recognition in the field.
Frustratingly, 15 years would pass before another woman was finally up for a chance at an Oscar.
Jane Campion (1994)
New Zealand director Jane Campion was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director in 1994 for The Piano. The drama chronicled a mute piano player and her daughter, and followed her efforts to get the piano back following its sale — all while falling in love, despairing, and learning heartbreaking lessons in the process. Her career has spanned several important works since then, including the female-led miniseries Top of the Lake, which she wrote, directed, and produced.
Despite being the second female director in history to be nominated for an Academy Award, Campion ultimately lost the Oscar to Steven Spielberg for Schindler’s List — but not all was lost for The Piano. She still took home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. In addition, Campion also has the honor of being the first woman in history to receive the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or prize for the film.
Sofia Coppola (2004)
It took another decade for a woman to reprise the supporting role of nominee in the Best Director category. In 2004, Sofia Coppola, daughter of Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola, became the first American woman to receive a nomination for her 2003 film Lost in Translation. The romantic comedy-drama paired Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, as actor Bob and college grad Charlotte, as they navigate daily life in Tokyo while being, as the film’s title suggests, “lost in translation.”
Coppola lost to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. But she didn’t leave the ceremony empty-handed; she won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Kathryn Bigelow (2010)
Finally, six years after Coppola’s nomination, director Kathryn Bigelow was nominated for 2009’s The Hurt Locker. Then, something miraculous happened: Nearly 35 years after the first woman was nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards, Bigelow actually won, becoming the first — and sadly still, only — female filmmaker to take home the coveted Oscar.
The Hurt Locker was an explosive and emotional film that examined an Iraq War Explosive Ordinance disposal team adapting to the everyday stressors of combat, as well as its physical and psychological tolls. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards overall and ended up winning six. Not only did Bigelow bag Best Director, but the film also has the distinction of being the first Best Picture winner from a female director.
She also earned the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film — but this win still didn’t signal a true turning point for women in film. It wouldn’t be until another 10 years later that another woman would be nominated for Best Director, despite Bigelow’s monumental achievement.
Greta Gerwig (2018)
Greta Gerwig’s 2018 film Lady Bird scored the female auteur a nod for Best Director in 2018, with the film bagging five nominations total. Lady Bird was a daring coming-of-age film that followed a rebellious senior in high school suffocating under the weight of her weary but well-meaning mother’s control.
It ended up winning two Golden Globes — including Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy — but it didn’t translate to Oscar gold for Gerwig. Instead, that honor went to Guillermo del Toro for his Best Picture-winning film The Shape of Water (yes, the fish sex movie).