Daniels, Bigelow join the DGA club

Directors Guild nominations announced Thursday

Breaking through a long-standing color barrier, "Precious" director Lee Daniels is the first African-American to be nominated for the Directors Guild of America's best director award.

Kathryn Bigelow, director of "The Hurt Locker," also contributed to the diverse array of nominees announced Thursday, becoming just the seventh woman to be singled out in the DGA's feature film category.

The two will contend for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film with James Cameron, nominated for  "Avatar"; Jason Reitman, who booked a ticket to the awards ceremony with"Up in the Air"; and Quentin Tarantino, who made the cut with "Inglourious Basterds."

The winner will be announced at the 62nd annual DGA Awards on Jan. 30 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City.

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push" by Sapphire" has been something of a Cinderella story ever since it first debuted at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. The Lionsgate release, the gritty tale of an abused inner-city teen, has grossed $43.8 million domestically.

But while "Precious" has become an awards season player, Daniels said that he had no expectation that he'd be nominated for the DGA honor.

While the helmer had established himself as an indie producer with such movies as "Monster's Ball" and "The Woodsman," "Precious" is only the second film he's directed. And in addition to being a fairly new helmer, he was up against the fact that the DGA had never nominated an black person. (John Singleton, who became the only black to be nominated for the best director Oscar when he earned a mention for 1991's "Boyz n the Hood," was not similarly recognized by the DGA.)

Daniels said he went to bed Wednesday feeling that since he was not "part of the club," there was no way his name would be included.

So after DGA president Taylor Hackford called him with the news Thursday morning, Daniels, sounding still somewhat dazed, said he was "floating on air right now."

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Asked about the historic nature of the nomination, Daniels said, "I can only compare it to 'Precious' ' existence at the boxoffice. Aside from a very specific demographic, I never thought people would respond to 'Precious.' That people of all colors have responded to the film was shocking to me, and this was just as shocking. I hope I'm not blabbering, but I'm really, really humbled, and I'm also really proud for all African-American filmmakers, because this gives people hope."

As a director who's often gravitated toward action films, Bigelow has defied stereotypes about female filmmakers throughout her career. And while Summit's release of "Locker' found just $12.7 million at the domestic boxoffice, it's been applauded by critics groups, guaranteeing that its director would be a contender this awards season.

"I can't even begin to explain how proud I am to be nominated by my fellow directors," Bigelow said of her first DGA nom.

While she acknowledged her place on the growing list of women who have been nominated for the DGA honor, she added, "I think that probably every filmmaker, male or female, longs for a day when that modifier is a moot point. I don't think we're there yet, but I like that the stats are changing, and I'm ever optimistic."

Although no woman has ever won the award, the DGA's list of female nominees consists of Lina Wertmuller ("Seven Beauties"), Randa Haines ("Children of a Lesser God"), Barbra Streisand ("The Prince of Tides"), Jane Campion ("The Piano"), Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation") and, most recently, Valerie Faris (who was nominated with Jonathan Dayton for "Little Miss Sunshine").

Although the DGA award is considered a harbinger of the eventual Oscar for best director, when it comes to nominees, the DGA has been somewhat more welcoming toward women than has the Academy. Only three women have been nominated for the best directing Oscar: Wertmuller, Campion and Coppola.

"I don't think directing is necessarily gender specific as a profession," Bigelow added. "On the other hand, certainly the movies this year directed by women -- (Lone Scherfig's) 'An Education,' (Campion's) 'Bright Star' -- are magnificent films, as are all the films by the filmmakers nominated for the DGA award. Certainly, the five nominees demonstrate a very exciting diversity."

Hackford struck a similar theme. "One of the things I'm extremely interested in, as have my predecessors, is encouraging diversity, making sure we have directors of all sexes and ethnicities," he said. "But you don't just look at directors that way. Kathryn Bigelow isn't defined by the fact that she's a woman. And while it's a huge thing that Lee Daniels is the first African-American to be nominated, frankly, that's not why he got the nomination. It's because he made a compelling movie."

Noting that each of the nominees produced "great, indelible work on different canvases" -- ranging from the enormous scale of Cameron's "Avatar" to the sweep of Tarantino's World War II tale to the midsize "Up in the Air" and the more modestly budgeted "Locker" and "Precious" -- Hackford concluded, "I am very proud of my members. We reached out and made some very interesting selections. Each one has an edgy quality, which I think is terrific."

Cameron, who was once married to Bigelow, is the only previous DGA winner in the group. He was nominated once before, for "Titanic," for which he took home the award in 1998.

Tarantino was previously nominated for "Pulp Fiction"; Reitman, like Bigelow and Daniels, is a first-time nominee.

"I can't even begin to explain how thrilled I am to be nominated by my fellow directors," Reitman said on Twitter. "I wanted to join the DGA from the moment I saw the eagle clad membership card in my father's wallet as a kid. Thank you to the ADs, UPMs and directors that make me so proud to be a member. This morning's honor will stay with me for a long time."

To make room for the newcomers, the DGA voters overlooked some more established directors in this year's hunt such as previous winners Clint Eastwood ("Invictus"), Joel and Ethan Coen ("A Serious Man") and Rob Marshall ("Nine").

Only six times since the DGA Awards began in 1948 has its feature film winner failed to go on to win the Academy Award for best director. The last time that happened was 2002, when Marshall won the DGA for "Chicago" but Roman Polanski took the Oscar for best director for "The Pianist."

All five of this year's nominees sat down with THR for its awards season roundtable video series. In addition to each director, the DGA award goes to each film's full directing team. The complete list of nominees follows can be found on the next page.

Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker" (Summit Entertainment)
Unit Production Manager: Tony Mark
First Assistant Director: David Ticotin
First Assistant Director (Canadian Unit): Lee Cleary

James Cameron, "Avatar" (20th Century Fox)
Unit Production Manager: Colin Wilson
First Assistant Director: Josh McLaglen
Second Assistant Director/Additional Unit First Assistant Director: Maria Battle Campbell

Lee Daniels, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" (Lionsgate)
Unit Production Manager: Tony Hernandez
First Assistant Director: Chip Signore
Second Assistant Director: Tracey Hinds
Second Second Assistant Director: Michael "Boogie" Pinckney 
Additional Unit Production Manager: Patrick D. Gibbons  
Additional First Assistant Director: Tom Fatone
Additional Second Assistant Directors: Kim Thompson, Mirashyam Blakeslee
Location Manager: Gregory Routt

Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air" (Paramount)
Unit Production Manager: Michael Beugg 
First Assistant Director: Jason Blumenfeld
Second Assistant Director: Sonia Bhalla
Assistant Unit Production Manager: Samson Mucke
Second Second Assistant Director: Joseph Payton 
Additional Second Assistant Director: Heather L. Hogan

Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds" (The Weinstein Co./Universal Pictures)
Unit Production Manager: Gregor Wilson
Unit Production Manager (Germany): Michael Scheel
First Assistant Director: Carlos Fidel
Second Assistant Director: Miguel Angelo Pate
Second Second Assistant Directors: Jill Moriarty, Tanja Daberitz