Why Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell's Best Director Oscars Nominations Were a Long Time Coming

Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell make history as the first two women to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, but who came before them? Learn more about the female history-makers here.

By Cydney Contreras Apr 25, 2021 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Female Directors Who Paved the Way: Legacy Makers

For the first time in 93 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences have nominated two women for Best Director.

On Monday, March 15, Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas announced Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell would go face-to-face against some of the best directors in the industry at the 2021 Oscars. Zhao created the heartbreaking drama Nomadland, while Fennell weaved a tale of sweet justice in Promising Young Woman.

The nominations also marked the first time a female woman of color was nominated.

It's a bittersweet moment to realize that it took almost a century for two female directors to be recognized at the Oscars.

In fact, only one woman has ever won in the category: Kathryn Bigelow. In 2009, Bigelow won for the film The Hurt Locker. In her acceptance speech, the director described it as "the moment of a lifetime." 

And she wasn't wrong. Prior to Bigelow, only four women had ever been recognized in the category. 

Lina Wertmüller became the first female nominee in 1977, following critical acclaim for the Italian war-drama, Seven Beauties.

Women Changing the World

Twenty years later, Jane Campion's 1993 film The Piano, starring Anna PaquinHolly Hunter and Harvey Keitel, was recognized alongside Schindler's List.

Focus Features

Then, in 2003, Sofia Coppola's beloved movie Lost in Translation went up against directors Fernando MeirellesPeter Jackson, Clint Eastwood and Peter Weir. She ultimately lost to Jackson's Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which set an award for taking 11 honors that night.

After Bigelow made history at the 82nd Oscars, director Greta Gerwig was nominated for her work with Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in Ladybird. That night, Guillermo Del Toro went home with the Oscar statuette for his work directing The Shape of Water, which also took Best Picture.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

And now, it's Zhao and Fennell's turn to wait with bated breath to learn if they won Best Director at the 2021 Oscars. The pair will face-off with Thomas VinterbergDavid Fincher and Lee Isaac Chung

So far, Zhao is predicted to win big. The 39-year-old director has already taken home awards from the Critics Choice, Golden Globe and Directors Guild of America awards. In other words, the odds are in her favor. 

But the Oscars have crowned the occasional wild card, so it's anyone's guess who will win. 

To check out the complete list of nominees for Sunday night's show, click here!