Black Widow. The Eternals. Candyman. Many of the films on the list you’re about to read were supposed to come out in 2020, a year that was originally hailed as one that would finally see women helming major blockbusters and in large numbers. Obviously, that hellscape year — good riddance — had other plans, but even in the face of unprecedented adversity, women managed to break a Hollywood record. According to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University released in January 2021, 16% of directors working on 100 of the top-grossing films of the year were women, the highest percentage ever recorded. In 2021, that number could be even greater.
What’s more, with so many buzzy films helmed by women and people of color released over the past year over streaming services and VOD, 2021 may well mark a banner year for awards recognition. (Need I remind you, only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, and only one has ever won; the Golden Globes boast a similarly poor track record.) Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland is already considered a frontrunner for Best Director at the 93rd Annual Academy Awards, having won the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in September, along with the Toronto International Film Festival Ebert Director Award and the People’s Choice Award. In fact, women directors swept all of the TIFF audience awards categories: Roseanne Liang’s Shadow in the Cloud won the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award, Michelle Latimer won the People’s Choice Documentary Award for Inconvenient Indian, and the Changemaker Award went to Black Bodies, a short film by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Regina King’s One Night in Miami was named first runner up for the People’s Choice Award, with Tracey Deer’s Beans in a close second. Memorize those names if you haven’t already — you’ll be hearing about them a lot more this year, as King, Zhao, and their casts continue to dominate critics’ lists and prizes leading up to a delayed awards season in the spring.
All of this points to the fact that though the way we watch and enjoy movies has changed drastically, and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future, cinema is far from dead. We have a lot to look forward to, starting with these 18 films directed by women hitting a TV (and fingers crossed, maybe a theater — safely) near you in 2021.