7 Award-Winning Female Directors Who Haven't Made the Oscar Ballot

10:00 AM 2/14/2018

by Michael Waters

Ava DuVernay, Patty Jenkins, Dee Rees and more have been making critically acclaimed films for years but have yet to land a nom in the best director category.

From left: Ava Duvernay, Patty Jenkins and Dee Rees
From left: Ava Duvernay, Patty Jenkins and Dee Rees
Getty Images

When Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) received an Oscar nomination for best director last month, she became only the fifth woman in history to be nominated. Since its inception in 1929, female nominees for best director have consisted of Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties, 1977), Jane Campion (The Piano, 1994), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, 2004) and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker); only Bigelow has won.

Much of the blame rests on the systemic lack of opportunities for female directors. In 2017, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, women comprised 18 percent of all directors, a dismal proportion that has more or less held steady for years. Yet often female-helmed films are not recognized at award shows.

Among the directing shutouts this year is Dee Rees, whose film Mudbound — about black sharecroppers in 1940s Mississippi — received nearly universal critical acclaim after it premiered on Netflix. Though Rees earned an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay for Mudbound, making her the first black woman nominated for the category, the Academy did not give her a best director nomination.

Rees isn’t the only woman whose innovative directing work has failed to garner an Oscar nod. In the spirit of celebrating the accomplishments of women in directing, here is a round-up of seven female directors whom you haven’t seen on the best director ballot despite their enormous contributions.

  • Dee Rees

    'Mudbound,' 'Bessie'

    Michael Tran/Getty

    Dee Rees has been on a roll. Her first three films — Pariah (2011), Bessie (2015) and Mudbound (2017) — have earned enthusiastic critical praise. For her HBO film about blues singer Bessie Smith, Bessie, Rees raked in an Emmy nomination in 2015 for best directing for a limited series, movie or a dramatic special as well as a win at the Directors Guild of America Awards for directorial achievement in movies for television and miniseries. Pariah and Mudbound have received similar acclaim, not to mention numerous Image Award nominations.


  • Amma Asante

    'Belle,' 'A Way of Life'

    Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

    Throughout Asante’s impressive directing career, she has won two BAFTA Awards, including the most promising award for directing her psychological thriller A Way of Life (2004). Her 2013 film Belle explores how the mixed-race daughter of a British admiral helped to push the abolition of slavery across the British colonies, netting Asante a best director win at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and nominations for several other awards.

  • Lynne Ramsay

    'Ratcatcher,' 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'

    Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

    Critical darling We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) earned Lynne Ramsay directing nominations from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the London Critics Circle Film Awards and numerous other organizations. Ramsay’s other directing credits include Ratcatcher, which follows a poor 12-year-old boy in 1970s Glasgow and the strange cast of characters he encounters, and the critical darling Morven Callar

  • Ava DuVernay

    'Selma,' '13th'

    Jeff Kravitz/Getty

    Despite earning best director nominations at the Golden Globes, the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards and the Black Film Critics Circle Awards (the latter of which she won), among many others, DuVernay did not receive an Oscar nomination for her film Selma (2014). Selma, which chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1965 march that ultimately inspired the passage of the Voting Rights Act, netted a best picture nomination in a year in which almost all of the major Oscar nominations went to white creators. Last year, DuVernay received an Oscar nom for best documentary feature for her exposé on mass incarceration, 13th, but she still has not made the final ballot for Best Director.

  • Patty Jenkins

    'Wonder Woman,' 'Monster'

    Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

    In 2011, Jenkins won a Directors Guild of America Award and a Primetime Emmy nomination for directing the Danish murder mystery TV show The Killing. She has received multiple other nominations for her 2003 film Monster, about a sex worker who struggles to support her and her new girlfriend. Wonder Woman, which Jenkins directed, became a box office hit, and some hoped that Jenkins might receive a nod at the Golden Globes or the Oscars for her work on it this year.

  • Mary Harron

    'American Psycho,' 'I Shot Andy Warhol'

    Gary Gershoff/WireImage

    Mary Harron’s directing credits include I Shot Andy Warhol, the TV drama Alias Grace and American Psycho. Harron’s work on Psycho, an indie drama about a murderous New York investment banker, earned her a nomination as director of the year at the London Critics Circle Film Awards (2001).

  • Julie Taymor

    'Frida,' 'Titus'

    Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images

    Julie Taymor's groundbreaking directing style has attracted stars like Anthony Hopkins and Salma Hayek to her films, including to Frida (2002) and Titus (1999). She has accepted nominations from the Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards, the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists and more, and also won a Tony for best directing of a musical for The Lion King in 1998.