Emerald Fennell is the first woman to win a screenwriting Oscar since 2008

Writer-director Emerald Fennell.
Writer-director Emerald Fennell made her feature filmmaking debut with “Promising Young Woman.”
(Matthew Lloyd / For The Times)

Emerald Fennell has won the original screenplay Oscar for her feature directorial debut, “Promising Young Woman,” the first female filmmaker to do so since Diablo Cody in 2008.

“Oh my God, he’s so heavy and he’s so cold, I’m putting him down,” she said of her Oscar. “They said [to] write a speech but I didn’t because I just didn’t think this would ever happen. This film was made by the most incredible people in the world who made it in 23 days and brought their complete genius and love and humor to it.”

“Promising Young Woman” is up for five Academy Awards, including best picture, director and lead actress for star Carey Mulligan, with Fennell herself a nominee as director and producer as well as writer. The movie also earned a BAFTA, Critics Choice Award, Writers Guild Award and L.A. Film Critics Assn. Award in the screenwriting category.


“I wanted to write something that didn’t feel like medicine, that would be accessible and gripping and funny, even at its darkest,” Fennell said in an essay she wrote for The Times. “A film that anyone could watch and discuss: a poison popcorn movie.”

The first woman to win an original screenplay award was Muriel Box, who shared the honor with her husband, Sydney, for 1946’s “The Seventh Veil.” They are also the first married couple to take home the award (Earl and Pamela Wallace, who won for 1985’s “Witness,” are the only other).

Until the 1960s, women had been nominated in the category only if they were paired with a male cowriter. Marguerite Duras was the first solo woman to be nominated, for 1960’s “Hiroshima, Mon Amour,” and she was joined 11 years later by Penelope Gilliatt for 1971’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

In 1991, Callie Khouri made history as the first solo woman to win the award for “Thelma & Louise.” She was later joined by Jane Campion (1994’s “The Piano”), Sofia Coppola (2003’s “Lost in Translation”) and Cody (2007’s “Juno”), making Fennell just the fifth woman to claim the honor alone.

Women are not the only ones historically underrepresented in the category. In 2018, Jordan Peele made history as the first Black writer to win an original screenplay Oscar, for “Get Out.” (Six Black men have won in the adapted screenplay category, for work on four different films.) Two years later, Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won became the first Asian writers to win either screenplay award for “Parasite.”

“Nomadland” director Chloé Zhao is nominated in the adapted screenplay category this year, as are three women — Erica Rivinoja, Jena Friedman and Nina Pedrad — from the nine-person team behind “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” The adapted screenplay Oscar went to “The Father,” written by Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton, based on Zeller’s play of the same name.