Has a Woman Ever Won an Oscar for Best Director?

And How Many Women Have Been Nominated?

Kathryn Bigelow
HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 07: Director Kathryn Bigelow, winner of Best Director award for 'The Hurt Locker,' poses in the press room at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images). Getty Images

Since 1929— the year of the very first Academy Award ceremony—only one woman has ever won the Academy Award for Best Director. Of course, before 1980 women were rarely offered opportunities to direct films, especially in Hollywood. Though an increasing number of women are directing movies today, film directing is still a male-dominated role in the industry particularly when it comes to big-budget studio movies.

As a result, Best Director remains a male-dominated category at the Oscars by a huge margin.

As of 2017, only four women have ever been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director:

Lina Wertmüller (1977)

Italian director Lina Wertmüller was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director in 1977 for Seven Beauties (Pasqualino Sette Bellezze). She was also the first ever woman to be nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film. However, both awards that year were won by John G. Avildsen for directing the Sylvester Stallone movie Rocky.

Jane Campion (1994)

It was more than fifteen years before another woman was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. New Zealand director Jane Campion was nominated the Academy Award for Best Director in 1994 for The Piano. While the Academy Award for Best Director was awarded to Steven Spielberg for Schindler's List, Campion did win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Piano that year.

Campion is also the first—and as of 2016, the only—female filmmaker in history to receive the Palme d'Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival, which was also for The Piano.

Sofia Coppola (2004)

Ten years after Campion was nominated, Sofia Coppola, the daughter of Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola, became the first American woman to ever be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for her 2003 film Lost in Translation.

Like Campion, Coppola did not win the Academy Award for Best Director—that award went to Peter Jackson for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Kingbut she did win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Lost in Translation.

Kathryn Bigelow (2010)

Over eighty years after the first Academy Awards ceremony and nearly thirty-five years after the first woman was ever nominated for Best Director, director Kathryn Bigelow became the first ever woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. She received the award for directing 2009's The Hurt Locker. In addition, Bigelow also won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film, which was the first time a woman has ever earned that honor.

Looking Ahead - Why Are the Numbers so Low?

Despite an increasing number of women directing films in the industry today, no woman has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director since Kathryn Bigelow's win in 2010. Bigelow was again nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film in 2013 for Zero Dark Thirty, but the award went to Ben Affleck for Argo. She was not nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director that year.

Though many pundits feel that only four women being nominated in the nearly ninety-year history of the Academy Awards is a troubling statistic, it is worth noting that this is more of an industry-wide problem than simply an Oscars problem. Most major film award organizations rarely recognize films directed as females as award-worthy, and in some cases this is because the film industry rarely hires women to direct studio films. Also, a majority of the few studio films that are directed by women tend to be comedies or light dramas, which are not the types of films that often get nominated for Academy Awards. While more women direct independent features, these are very often overlooked for major awards.

Finally, the Academy Award for Best Director category, like the acting categories, is limited to just five nominees.

That limit makes for a very crowded field. A number of films over the past several years that were directed by women were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, a category which allows for more nominees. However, the directors of those films were not nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. These films include 2010's The Kids Are All Right (directed by Lisa Cholodenko), 2010's Winter's Bone (directed by Debra Granik), and 2014's Selma (directed by Ava DuVernay).

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McKittrick, Christopher. "Has a Woman Ever Won an Oscar for Best Director?" ThoughtCo, Jul. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/best-director-oscar-for-a-woman-4109468. McKittrick, Christopher. (2017, July 5). Has a Woman Ever Won an Oscar for Best Director? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/best-director-oscar-for-a-woman-4109468 McKittrick, Christopher. "Has a Woman Ever Won an Oscar for Best Director?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/best-director-oscar-for-a-woman-4109468 (accessed November 20, 2017).