Oscars Nominations 2021: For the First Time, Two Women Are Up for Best Director

Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell were selected alongside Lee Isaac Chung, Thomas Vinterberg and David Fincher, the first time the academy has honored more than one woman in a year.

By Sarah Bahr

For the first time in the history of the Oscars, more than one female filmmaker has been nominated for an Academy Award for best director in a single year.

On Monday, Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) and Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) scored nominations alongside Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”), David Fincher (“Mank”) and Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”). The honor is also notable because the category rarely features any women: before this year, only five female filmmakers had been recognized.

Zhao became the first Asian woman to win best director at the Golden Globes in February, when “Nomadland,” the story of a widow who joins the country’s itinerant work force, also picked up best picture in the drama category. The film is a strong contender to win best picture at the 93rd Oscars on April 25.

“Promising Young Woman,” about the quest for vengeance after a friend is raped, was nominated for four Golden Globes, including best director and best picture. In the end it was shut out.

“Nomadland” was near universally well-reviewed, with The New York Times’s co-chief film critic A.O. Scott praising Zhao’s attention “to the interplay between human emotion and geography, to the way space, light and wind reveal character.”

“Promising Woman” received a more mixed reception, though USA Today’s Brian Truitt characterized Fennell, who also wrote the script, as a “stunning new filmmaking voice with a cunning heroine who’s impossible not to adore.”

If either Zhao or Fennell were to win, they would become just the second woman named best director — and the first in more than a decade. In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow won for her Iraq War film “The Hurt Locker.” Next year, Zhao may also have a chance to become the first female director to be nominated twice — she’s helming the Marvel superhero movie “Eternals,” currently set for release in November.

The other women who have been nominated are Lina Wertmüller (in 1977 for “Seven Beauties”), Jane Campion (“The Piano,” 1994), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation,” 2004), and Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird,” 2018).

Last year, 16 percent of the top 100 grossing films were directed by women, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, up from 12 percent in 2019 and 4 percent in 2018.

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