Despite its near-hundred-year history, the Oscars is still the kind of place where long-standing gender boundaries are broken each year (to say nothing of similar issues when it comes to race). It took nearly 50 years for the annual ceremony to even nominate a woman for Best Director (and then an additional 33 years for the AMPAS kudofest to actually award the statuette to one). Only three female-directed films have ever won the awards for Best International Film. A woman wasn’t nominated for Best Cinematography until 2017 (and one still hasn’t won in that category).
As Hollywood prepares for the 94th Annual Academy Awards March 27, records are still being broken and much-deserved recognitions are still being handed out. And while strides have been made — consider last year, the first in which two women were nominated for Best Director, with Chloé Zhao even winning the damn thing — examining the nominations and possible winners from an increasingly deep and exciting pool of female filmmakers and creators (not just directors, but writers, editors, cinematographers, and more) illuminates just how many women are worthy of a shiny Oscar statuette. Let’s get to know them.
An important reminder: The Oscar for Best Picture is given to the film’s producers, not its director, and so while filmmakers are often also credited producers, they aren’t always the ones walking away with a statuette of their own. This year, two films directed by women — Jane Campion’s frontrunner “The Power of the Dog” and Sian Heder’s crowdpleaser “CODA” — made the cut, but only Campion is officially nominated.
Last year, Zhao also took home a Best Picture statuette for her “Nomadland,” which she won alongside two other female producers, star Frances McDormand and co-producer Mollye Asher, plus their fellow producers Peter Spears and Dan Janvey. (Trivia: While many female producers have won over the years, there’s never been a Best Picture winner that was only produced by women.)
Of the remaining eight nominees, four of them have female producers nominated and thus eligible for the Oscar, including “Belfast,” “Dune,” “Licorice Pizza,” and “West Side Story.” Since the Oscars re-introduced a larger field of nominees for the honor (from five to 10 in 2009), each year’s nominees have boasted a high number of female producers. That’s no different this year.
Campion, long considered the frontrunner in this category for her masterful “The Power of the Dog,” is also the only woman nominated. Still, her nomination broke a major barrier: she’s the first female director nominated twice in the category. Campion was previously nominated for Best Director for 1993’s “The Piano” (she ultimately lost out to Steven Spielberg for his work on “Schindler’s List,” against whom she will face off again this year).
She’ll likely win, too, marking the first time the Oscars have ever had back-to-back female Best Director winners. (And, considering this is the first time in Oscars history that women have been nominated in the category two years in a row, it would also be the first time this feat was even possible.)
Best Adapted Screenplay
But at least the Best Adapted Screenplay category has some action, including nods for three of the year’s best films (not just screenplays either, films), including Campion, Heder, and first-time filmmaker Maggie Gyllenhaal for her “The Lost Daughter.”
Despite the apparent glut of women nominated in the scripting categories, one hasn’t won Best Adapted Screenplay since 2005, when Diana Ossana picked it up (with Larry McMurtry) for her take on Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain.” Each of this year’s female nominees enters the race with formidable buzz and backing, but it’s a stacked category all-around (perhaps even, sneakily, the year’s most exciting), as the trio is facing off with other heavy-hitters “Dune” and “Drive My Car.”
Best Original Screenplay
Female filmmakers are so often nominated (and go on to win) in the writing categories that they are occasionally (and somewhat derisively) viewed as some sort of consolation prize. (Case in point: Campion might have missed out on Best Director for “The Piano,” but she won for Best Original Screenplay; last year, Emerald Fennell lost Best Director to Zhao, but ended up winning her own Best Original Screenplay Oscar for her “Promising Young Woman.”)
Some of our most talented female filmmakers have been recognized by the writing categories over the years, from Frances Marion (the first writer of any gender to win two Oscars) to Sofia Coppola, Callie Khouri, and Diablo Cody (winners), and Nora Ephron, Ruth Gordon, Greta Gerwig, and Nancy Meyers (all nominees). This year, however, something sort of odd: no women were nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category.
Best Documentary Feature
The Best Documentary Feature race typically boasts a high number of female-directed nominees. However, like Best Picture, the award is given to the film’s producers. Over the last six years, the majority of nominees have included a number of nominated female producers (in fact, from 2018–2020, every nominated film was produced by at least one woman), and that trend doesn’t end in 2022.
Of the five nominated films, four are produced by women, and three of them are directed by women. They include Jessica Kingdon’s “Ascension,” Traci A. Curry’s “Attica” (which she co-directed with the iconic Stanley Nelson), and Rintu Thomas’ “Writing with Fire” (which she co-directed with Sushmit Ghosh). All three directors are nominated as producers (Curry and Thomas are nominated alongside their fellow directors), and would pick up their first Oscars with their potential wins.
And while frontrunner “Flee” was directed by a man (Danish breakout Jonas Poher Rasmussen), he shares the nomination with three female producers, including previous nominee and documentary mainstay Signe Byrge Sørensen.
Best Animated Feature
In the Best Animated Feature race, “Encanto” co-director Charise Castro Smith was the only female director who saw her work nominated. But, like in the Best Picture race, she’s not technically a nominee; instead, it’s the producers who are jockeying for the statuette.
Of the five nominees, four groups include female producers, including “Encanto,” “Luca,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” and that “Flee” trio. Women are typically nominated in the category, which has only been in existence since 2002, and last year Dana Murray won for “Soul” (alongside director Pete Docter). Given the heat “Flee” has on it, it’s likely to walk away with the win, even though it’s going up against the likes of two Disney features and a Pixar.
In 2018, the highest honor for cinematography finally cracked a staggering record: It became the last gender-neutral Oscars category to (finally) nominate a woman when “Mudbound” standout Rachel Morrison picked up her very first nod. While Morrison didn’t win (she lost out to Roger Deakins for his “Blade Runner 2049” work), her nomination effectively broke a long-standing (and shameful) barrier.
So, who will become the first woman to win the award? Perhaps Ari Wegner, who this year became only the second woman nominated for the honor on (again, presumed frontrunner) “The Power of the Dog.” Wegner will face off against a formidable field, including Greig Fraser, Dan Laustsen, Bruno Delbonnel, and Janusz Kaminski, but with the heat very much on her standout work in the lauded film, we’re expecting this final record to fall this year.
Best Film Editing
“King Richard” editor Pamela Martin picked up her second nomination this year, joining a long line of female editors who have been nominated for multiple Oscars in the category, along with names as starry as Barbara McLean, Anne Bauchens, Viola Lawrence, Dede Allen, Marcia Lucas, Anne V. Coates, Thelma Schoonmaker (currently tied with Michael Kahn for both all-time nominations and all-time wins), and more.
Despite the category’s enviable lineup of female nominees, only a handful of women have won it (just 15 since 1934, and the last time a woman took it home was in 2015, when Margaret Sixel picked it up for “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Competition this year is fierce, but there’s even more to it: The category winner is often seen as a predictor of who will walk off with Best Picture, so — for many reasons indeed! — this is always one to closely watch (even if you’ll have to miss its live announcement).
Best International Film
And, just to throw one final wrench in the question of “wait, who is actually the nominee for each of these categories?” we remind everyone of the weirdness of Best International Film, meant to be an award bestowed on the entrant’s country, not its director or producers. This year, no films directed by women made the cut. Since 2000, the category has typically made space for one (and, in certain years, even more!) films made by women, often some of the most thrilling of that year.
This is the first year since 2014 when none of them made the cut, a particularly galling piece of trivia considering the high level of female-directed international offerings this year, including “Titane,” “Petite Maman,” “Happening” (all of which competed for France’s entry, with “Titane” getting it but not the nomination), “Playground,” “I’m Your Man,” “Prayers for the Stolen,” and “Unclenching the Fists.”
Other Nominees of Note
A number of other craft-focused categories, including Best Sound, Best Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Costume Design, all include female nominees. Each short film category includes female filmmaker-directed offerings. Best Original Song and Best Original Score both include female nominees (Best Original Score even boasts a first-time nomination for Germaine Franco, the first woman to score a Disney animated feature film).
There is just one other non-gendered category in which no women were nominated this year: Best Visual Effects, which is only second to Best Cinematography in terms of its lack of female nominees and winners; just four women have ever been nominated in the category, though two have won (Suzanne M. Benson as part of the “Aliens” team and Sara Bennett for her work on “Ex Machina”).
Winners will be announced at the 94th Oscars, which will take place on Sunday, March 27, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, airing on ABC. This year’s show will be hosted by Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes. Check out the full list of this year’s nominations right here.
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