I’m hesitant to finally call this the ‘Year of the Woman’ in the directing category since we’ve been burned so many times before but I think we might finally be here.
With multiple male directors in the fray as former nominees here, it’s never good to celebrate early and part of what makes each Oscar season so frustrating when female directors are finally in the mix is the idea that there can only be one. Groups, be it critics or industry, feel they have to coalesce around one to ensure her success. Same goes for a person of color. That doesn’t happen with white men, it doesn’t have to. It becomes a given, a rightful spot for them, and if anyone else wants to horn in on their very exclusive club they need to fight for it. You don’t need to read into that as anti-white or anti-male, it’s not; it’s simply the way the Oscars have run for 92 years.
That’s what makes this year so special but also so important. With so many high-profile studio films out of the mix this year due to the coronavirus pushing them deep into 2021 or even 2022, what we largely have are the films and directors who normally have to struggle for awards attention. It doesn’t make their films or efforts less valid, just less seen and regarded by the Academy. This year has given us Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Regina King (One Night in Miami) as top contenders with Radha Blank (The Forty-Year Old Version) Eliza Hittman (Never Rarely Sometimes Always), Kelly Reichardt (First Cow) and Channing Godfrey Peoples (Miss Juneteenth) in the mix. That makes this year, more than any year in Oscar history, under the microscope. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t think Zhao is missing. She’s won more critics’ awards this season than any other director in history, male or female, white of non-white. But it can’t just be her. Anything less than two women nominated is going to be a disaster as the Academy’s efforts to encourage and expand diversity will seem for nought. Diversity isn’t a checklist. Zhao making it in as a woman and a person of color doesn’t simply tick off two boxes and you’ve solved misogyny and racism in one fell swoop. The Academy needs to understand that recognizing art for art’s sake is the diversity they say they’re striving for.
For Fennell, she would be the first female director nominated without the critical backing that the women before her had. Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow, Greta Gerwig and now Zhao all won trifecta awards (LAFCA/NYFCC/NSFC) and had one of the most acclaimed films of the year. Lina Wertmüller, the first female director nominated, was not a critics’ pick in 1975 but did come in with a DGA nomination (again, the first, even after years with 10+ nominees). She would also become the first female director to be nominated for her first feature and she’s likely going to win the Directors Guild of America First Feature award.
For King, she would become the first Black woman nominated in Best Director. She has the Golden Globe nomination and BAFTA longlist spot and is one of the few directors to wrestle away some critics’ wins from Zhao this season. Like Fennell, if nominated she’d be the first female director nominated for her first feature. She’ll also be a likely nominee for the DGA First Feature award and go up against Fennell there. Imagine if we have an Oscar year where two female directors helming their first features make it in.
The Golden Globe Awards are February 28, Critics’ Choice Awards are March 7, BAFTA nominations and Directors Guild nominations come out March 9, Oscar nominations drop March 15.
Here are my ranked 2021 Oscar predictions in Best Director for February.
Green – moves up ↑; Red – moves down ↓; Blue – new entry this month +; Black – no change ↔
1. Chloé Zhao – Nomadland + (Searchlight Pictures) – GG, BAFTA longlist, BFCA
2. Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman ↑ (Focus Features) – GG, BAFTA longlist, BFCA
3. David Fincher – Mank ↑ (Netflix) – GG, BAFTA longlist, BFCA
4. Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7 ↔ (Netflix) – GG, BAFTA longlist, BFCA
5. Regina King – One Night in Miami ↑ (Amazon Studios) – GG, BAFTA longlist, BFCA
6. Lee Isaac Chung – Minari ↑ (A24) – BAFTA longlist
7. Paul Greengrass – News of the World ↓ (Universal Pictures) – BAFTA longlist
8. Spike Lee – Da 5 Bloods ↓ (Netflix)
9. Shaka King – Judas and the Black Messiah ↑ (Warner Bros)
10. Darius Marder – Sound of Metal + (Amazon Studios)
Other Contenders: Thomas Vinterberg – Another Round (Samuel Goldwyn Mayer) – BAFTA longlist, Florian Zeller – The Father (Sony Classics Pictures) – BAFTA longlist, Kelly Reichardt – First Cow (A24), Radha Blank – The Forty-Year Old Version + (Netflix) – BAFTA longlist, George C. Wolfe – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom ↓ (Netflix), Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Focus Features), Kornél Mundruczó – Pieces of a Woman (Netflix), Christopher Nolan – Tenet (Warner Bros) – BAFTA longlist, Ramin Bahrani – The White Tiger + (Netflix) – BAFTA longlist
Photo credits: Emerald Fennell via her IG; Patti Perret/Amazon Studios