Film

Oscar nominations 2023: Where are the female directors?

No women were named in the Best Director category for the Oscar nominations 2023, a disappointment after progress in recent years

Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams announce the Academy Award nominations for the Oscars 2023. Image: YouTube / Oscars

Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams announce the Academy Award nominations for the Oscars 2023. Image: YouTube / Oscars

The Oscar nominations for the 95th Academy Awards were announced today by actors Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams and there was one thing notably missing – female directors.

Precisely zero women were named as potential winners in the Best Director category, though Sarah Polley’s Women Talking did get a surprise place on the Best Picture list. The writer-director also bagged a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for the same film, which was drawn from Miriam Toews’s 2018 novel about an isolated religious colony struggling to reconcile with their faith after a series of sexual assaults. Yet she still didn’t make the Best Director list.

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Optimistic observers had been hoping to see a mention for Charlotte Wells’s directorial debut Aftersun [which our critic called a “bruised, tender autofictional debut about a young woman looking back at her complicated relationship with her father”] – but it wasn’t to be. The film’s star Paul Mescal was recognised in the acting categories but it was overlooked for both direction and best picture.

Corio and Mescal as Sophie and Callum. Photo: Sarah Makharine
Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal as Sophie and Callum in Aftersun. Photo: Sarah Makharine

There have now been 468 nominations for the Best Director award but only eight of those nods have gone to women. Jane Campion has been nominated twice, so that makes just seven women who’ve been in that spotlight. The award has been given out to 74 directors or directing teams – only three times to women.

It’s particularly depressing to be here again, when in recent years the trend seemed to be going the right way. Both the 93rd and 94th Oscars rewarded female directors.

Jane Campion won the award last year for The Power of the Dog, the atmospheric Western starring Benedict Cumberbatch. And in 2021, Chloé Zhao took home the statuette for Nomadland, which starred Frances McDormand as a woman living an itinerant lifestyle in a mobile home.

However, progress has been slow – and, as we saw today, it is not a straight line. In the 2010s just one woman bagged a nomination for her directorial work (Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird). For context – in that decade two men, David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese, were nominated three times each.

Women have traditionally been given more opportunity to make short films than feature categories, but as more females have been given – or have taken – the director’s chair, the Oscars continue to lag behind. For all its problems, the Oscars remain the pre-eminent arbiter of genius on celluloid. If they recognise the same man again and again, it leaves us with a curiously blinkered view of what makes a great movie, fantastic though all the nominees may be for Best Director and Best Picture.

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The nominations for Best Animated Feature Film gave some hope for women’s voices, with a nod for director Domee Shi of the superb Turning Red. A coming-of-age story that deals brilliantly with the bodily changes girls go through at puberty, the first Pixar movie to be solely directed by a woman is a story that truly benefits from Shi’s own experience (as well as that of her co-author Julia Cho). I hope it wins, and reminds the Academy that they cannot forget the voices of half the global population.

The Oscars 2023 winners are announced on March 13.

Laura Kelly is The Big Issue’s culture editor. @laurakaykelly

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