Back when Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director at the 82nd Academy Awards for The Hurt Locker, she became the first woman in history to ever win the prestigious award. But even after breaking that glass ceiling, since then, no woman has been nominated for Best Director. Even though women have directed Best Picture nominees: The Kids Are All Right, Winter’s Bone, Zero Dark Thirty, and Selma, still no citations for the women that made them (Lisa Cholodenko, Debra Granik, Kathryn Bigelow, and Ava DuVernay, respectively).
Also, in the Academy’s soon to be 90-year history, only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano, Sofia Coppola for Lost In Translation, and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. Very depressing if you ask me. But it’s hard to entirely pin that on the Academy when it’s their job to judge movies while Hollywood studios decide who makes their movies. Earlier this year, it was revealed that only 7% of the top 250 highest grossing domestic releases of 2016 were directed by women. So there are much larger factors at play. There may be male voters within the Directing branch that are biased towards female filmmakers. But surely, they don’t represent the entire voting branch.
Thankfully, there are plenty of chances this year for women to once again get recognized for Best Director. Two of them are women who have previously have been cited in this category and whose films have already been seen. First is Sofia Coppola with The Beguiled. The film may have opened in the summer with lukewarm box office results and also may have been hit with outcries of whitewashing due to the omission of an African-American female character from the 1971 original. But what keeps Coppola’s chances alive is that she won the prestigious Best Director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The same prize was awarded to names like Robert Altman for The Player, Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, David Lynch for Mulholland Drive, and Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell And The Butterfly who all went on to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars even if their films were snubbed for Best Picture. So even though the film is unlikely to compete in Best Picture, there is still a precedent for Coppola to make it in.
Next, we have Kathryn Bigelow likely back in the conversation for Detroit. Much like The Beguiled, Detroit came out in the summer and was hit with controversy due to the film being a race-relations drama being told by a predominantly white filmmaking crew. Also, Detroit was majorly hit by its poor box office showing, having made $16 million domestically against a $33 million budget. I know voters should judge a film on its merits and not how it performed financially. But the fact that Detroit left quickly as it came into theaters means it’s already forgotten. However, Bigelow could still make it in if distributor Annapurna Pictures is willing to spend money on an Oscar campaign for the film and if voters recognize her willingness to make a film about a horrific past event that isn’t too far from what’s taking place in our country right now.
In her directorial debut, Greta Gerwig has already wowed critics at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festival with her coming-of-age dramedy Lady Bird starring Saoirse Ronan. Actors-turned-directors have done well in this category (Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner, Robert Redford, etc.) and Greta Gerwig is somebody who has been on the cusp of her first Oscar nomination with Frances Ha and 20th Century Women. Also, at the Telluride Film Festival, director Barry Jenkins introduced Lady Bird when it first screened and sung its praises on Twitter. So, Gerwig already has support from her directing peers.
Battle Of The Sexes, which is being co-directed by Valerie Faris, also screened at the Telluride Film Festival. Both her and Jonathan Dayton co-directed the 2006 Sundance sensation Little Miss Sunshine which went onto become an awards juggernaut and win two Oscars: Best Supporting Actor for Alan Arkin and Best Original Screenplay for Michael Arndt. Yet apparently, voters thought the film directed itself because Dayton and Faris were ultimately left off the Best Director lineup. That could change this time around if it becomes a major commercial play and if voters remember it at the end of the year. Sounds weird given that it’s coming out in September. But we have sights unseen looking to make a major play (All The Money In The World, The Post, Phantom Thread) and established festival darlings screening in November and December (Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, The Shape Of Water, etc.).
Mudbound screened to positive reviews back at Sundance and looks to make a case for director Dee Rees to become the first African-American woman in history to be nominated for Best Director. But the only handicap it has to overcome is its Netflix label. Netflix tried to mount an Oscar campaign for the 2015 film Beasts Of No Nation which got shut out. We’ll see if they are more successful this time around and we’ll see if they even do a good job at promoting it on their own site. I mean, when I watched the sci-fi film The Discovery on Netflix, I had to type it in the search engine just so I can watch it. So, Mudbound has the reviews to become a contender. Its only potential Achilles Heel is its own distributor.
We not only have another Netflix film in the conversation helmed by a woman but another film helmed by an actress-turned-director. Angelina Jolie enters the mix for the Cambodian war drama First They Killed My Father which is said to be her best work as a director to date. But even if Netflix feels they have their hands full with Mudbound, Jolie’s star power could still at least muscle the film’s way into the Best Foreign Language Film category since the country of Cambodia selected First They Killed My Father as the film to represent it.
Logan may have been the first film to send out Academy screeners. But I think if there is any hope for a superhero film to become a major player, it’s Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins. Warner Bros. is mounting an aggressive Oscar campaign for the film and also, no other superhero film or blockbuster this year in general has dominated the cultural lexicon the way Wonder Woman has. Wonder Woman is viewed as the perfect feminist hero in the age of Trump. Also, even though it just came out on DVD, it is still playing in theaters and is the most successful film ever made by a female director. A nomination for Patty Jenkins, who is instrumental to the film’s success and has signed on to direct the upcoming sequel, would be a tremendous way to capitalize on that success.
But female representation doesn’t begin and end in the Best Director category. In the Best Foreign Language Film category, so far, there are a record 19 submissions from female directors. Some include the Polish submission Spoor from Agnieszka Holland, the Spanish submission Summer 1993 from Carla Simon, the Mexican documentary Tempestad from Tatiana Huezo, and the Iranian submission Breath from Narges Abyar who is the first woman in history to direct a film submitted by Iran.
Lastly, the LGBTQ+ animated short In A Heartbeat, which took the Internet by the storm, is co-directed by a woman, Beth David. In A Heartbeat will be eligible to compete for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short after winning a prize at the 44th Student Academy Awards. Past winners at that particular ceremony, like Spike Lee, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Robert Zemeckis, would make future appearances at the Oscar ceremony as nominees and winners. We could say the same for Beth David.
What do you think? Do you think any of those female directors have a shot at competing at the Oscars? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!