female directors oscars

You can count on one hand the number of female directors who have been nominated for a Best Director Oscar in the award’s 90-year history. You can count on one finger the number of female directors who have won the Best Director prize. But despite their meager showing at awards ceremonies, female directors are thriving in the independent and film festival circuit, with films like Lynne Ramsay‘s lean thriller You Were Never Really Here winning the Cannes screenplay prize or Debra Granik‘s quietly devastating survival drama Leave No Trace earning raves at Sundance. Marielle Heller helmed the Telluride Film Festival darling Can You Ever Forgive Me, which earned a whopping three Oscar nominations for acting and screenplay.

But despite the inroads female filmmakers have made, the Best Director category found itself reverting back to the all-male status quo once again.

Since the Oscars held its first ceremony in 1929, only five female directors have earned a Best Director nod: Lina Wertmüller for 1976 for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for 1993 for The Piano, Sofia Coppola for 2003 for Lost in Translation, Kathryn Bigelow, who in 2009 won for The Hurt Locker, and finally Greta Gerwig last year for Lady Bird.

It feels extra insulting on the heels of Greta Gerwig’s Best Director nod last year that female directors are doing more visibly acclaimed work than ever and getting shut out at the Oscars. At least seven women helmed critical and awards circuit darlings that should have made them eligible for the Best Director nomination — some of which had received Oscar nods in other categories.

Ramsay directed one of the best films of the year, anchored by an also-undervalued performance by Joaquin Phoenix. The Amazon release won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival and earned several nominations at the British Independent Film Awards. According to Variety, Ramsay rivaled Spike Lee for the “most laureled filmmaker on the critics’ awards circuit after Alfonso Cuarón.” However, You Were Never Really Here was more of an underground success, despite Ramsay’s deft direction.

So what are the other contenders? Debra Granik won best director at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association last month for her Sundance darling Leave No Trace, which could have ostensibly put her on the path for an Oscar nod. Chloe Zhao‘s thought-provoking Western The Rider was named the year’s best film by the National Society of Film Critics and the Gotham Film Awards. But the filmmaker who could have most feasibly earned that fifth slot was Marielle Heller, whose dark comedy-drama Can You Ever Forgive Me? made a surprisingly strong showing in the Oscar nominations this year, earning nods for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Screenplay. A Best Director nod wouldn’t have been out of the question for the director of this sad and funny drama.

Other contenders include Josie Rourke, whose Mary Queen of Scots earned two nods for makeup and costume design, Tamara Jenkins who directed the affecting and intimate Private Life, Karyn Kusama for the gripping crime drama Destroyer, and Mimi Leder for the inspirational biopic On the Basis of Sex.

Though the overall statistics for female filmmakers last year weren’t great, women had been making major inroads in the past decade since Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director in 2009 for The Hurt Locker. Patty Jenkins has reportedly negotiated her way to be the highest-paid female director in Hollywood. Gerwig came out of the gate running with a Best Director nod for her debut solo feature. And 2018 seemed poised to continue that upward momentum. It’s certainly more progress than the 17-year gap between Lina Wertmuller’s historic 1976 nod was followed up by Jane Campion in 1993, but it’s not enough.

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