Chloé Zhao makes history as the first woman of color nominated for a directing Oscar

On the set of "Nomadland."
Filmmaker Chloé Zhao, left, and Frances McDormand on the set of “Nomadland.”
(Searchlight Pictures)

In an unusual year marred by a global pandemic and theater closures nationwide, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated two female filmmakers for a directing Oscar, marking the first time more than one woman has been nominated in the same year. This is only the sixth year in academy history that any women have cracked the category.

Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) and Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) have been nominated this year alongside David Fincher (“Mank”), Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) and Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”).

With their nominations, Zhao and Chung join the ranks of just four directors of East Asian descent ever to be nominated in the category: Hiroshi Teshigahara (1965’s “Woman in the Dunes”), Akira Kurosawa (1985’s “Ran”), Ang Lee (2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain,” 2012’s “Life of Pi”) and Bong Joon Ho (2019’s “Parasite”). Bong and Lee (who won twice) are the only two of the nominees to take home the award.

Including ‘Minari’ and ‘Nomadland,’ there are multiple projects that scored historic 2021 Oscar nominations. Here’s a helpful guide.

March 15, 2021

Last month, Zhao won a Golden Globe for her work on “Nomadland,” which also won the prize for best picture, drama, making her the first woman of color, the first woman of Asian descent and just the second female director to do so.

The London-born Emerald Fennell was seen as an actress on the BBC series “Call the Midwife” and more recently as Camilla Parker Bowles on “The Crown.” She took over from Phoebe Waller-Bridge as showrunner for the second season of “Killing Eve” before making her feature filmmaking debut as writer, director and producer on “Promising Young Woman.”

Female directors have been shut out of the Oscar nominations since 2018, when Greta Gerwig was nominated for her debut, “Lady Bird.” Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to take home the prize, for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker,” and no woman has ever been nominated twice in the category.


Only five women have been nominated for the Oscars’ director honor over the awards ceremony’s history: Gerwig, Bigelow, Lina Wertmüller (1976’s “Seven Beauties”), Jane Campion (1993’s “The Piano”) and Sofia Coppola (2003’s “Lost in Translation”).

The winners of the 93rd Academy Awards will be revealed April 25.

2021 Oscar nominations: The complete list

March 15, 2021