The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began honoring directors in 1929. But it would take nearly 50 years for a woman to be nominated in the Best Director category.
In 1976 the Italian filmmaker Lina Wermuller became the first woman nominated for Best Director for Seven Beauties. The film, which was also written by Wertmüller, follows a World War II deserter who is captured by the Germans and is sent to a prison camp where he must do almost anything survive. Seven Beauties received four Oscar nominations, including Best Foreign Language Film.
While it may have seemed female filmmakers were making breakthroughs into the male-dominated Academy, it would take another 17 years for another woman to be nominated for Best Director.
As the writer, director and producer of the romantic drama The Piano, New Zealander Jane Campion was nominated for three Oscars in 1993. The film received eight nominations in total with victories in the Best Lead Actress (Holly Hunter), Best Supporting Actress (Anna Paquin) and Best Original Screenplay (Campion) categories. The film lost out on Best Director and Best Motion Picture to Steven Spielberg and Schindler’s List.
Female filmmakers had to wait another decade for another Best Director nomination which was bestowed on Sofia Coppola for writing and directing the romantic dramedy Lost in Translation. Like her predecessor, Coppola received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay but failed to take home the Best Director prize which went to Peter Jackson in 2003 for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. However, Coppola does bear the distinction of being the first American woman to be nominated in the directing category.
After a six-year absence of nominated women directors, Kathryn Bigelow was up for The Hurt Locker. She differed in two ways from the three women previously nominated: 1) she did not also serve as the film’s writer; and 2) she actually won—exactly 80 years after the Academy began honoring directors. Bigelow took home a second Oscar for producing the The Hurt Locker which was named Best Motion Picture of 2009.
The four women nominated for Best Director represent three different countries and two different film genres: half are war films and the other half are romances. Two of the films were set in present day and the other two took place during a historic period.
To date, Bigelow is the first and only woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. It’s been five years since her victory and no other women have been nominated in the category. While these facts may seem askew, they are actually in keeping with the film industry’s statistics of female versus male directors since only four percent of movies in 2014 are slated to be directed by women.