The Golden Globes 2021 nominations are in, and there’s some good news. This year, three women received nominations in the prestigious Best Director category, breaking a five year streak of male-dominated nods: Regina King for One Night in Miami, Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman and Chloé Zhao for Nomadland. Rounding out the five-person list is Aaron Sorkin for The Trial of The Chicago 7, and David Fincher for Mank.
This year’s nominations mark a huge step forward for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the 90-ish person-organization that votes for these nominees, but only after years of being called out for the lack of representation. Prior to February 3, 2021, only 5 women directors had ever been nominated: Barbra Streisand (still the only woman to ever win, for Yentl in 1984), Jane Campion, Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola and Ava DuVernay. (Bigelow and Streisand were both nominated twice.) In 2018, Natalie Portman famously called out the lack of gender diversity when she presented the award, declaring: “And here are the all male nominees.”
So, of course, the addition of three new names (a 60% increase!) to that list is a big deal. But as you dig into the details of our new Golden Globes nominees, their inclusion becomes even more significant. Two of those directors — Fennell and King — are being nominated for debut features, an achievement that sparkles against the names Fincher and Sorkin, poster boys for Hollywood’s male auteurs.
Until this morning, DuVernay was the sole woman of color ever to have been considered. With the addition of King and Zhao, that’s no longer the case. In fact, Zhao is breaking a new barrier, becoming the first Asian woman to be nominated, joining the thin ranks of past male nominees Bong Joon-ho and Ang Lee. Her inclusion marks a sustained shift in representation that began just last year, when Awkwafina made history as the first Asian American woman to win Best Actress at the Golden Globes for her performance in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. (Wang’s exclusion from the category marked a major snub.)
In a perfect world, the fact that these three women made the list wouldn’t actually be surprising. All have produced critically acclaimed works of art that, in their distinct ways, interrogate accepted myths about race, gender and class. Nomadland, about a woman who leaves her decimated industrial town in the aftermath of her husband’s death, reimagines what classic Americana looks, sounds, and feels like. Promising Young Woman, with its candy-coated exterior and poisonous core, is a viciously smart take on rape culture, and the toll it takes on women. Finally, One Night in Miami pulls back the curtain on four Black legends, staging them in a conversation that speaks to modern concerns, all while making them feel refreshingly human. They’re the kind of projects that Hollywood usually loves to reward as long as a man sits behind the camera.
The nominations follow a tentative upward trend in Hollywood when it comes to gender diversity behind the camera. 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, women directors made up 16% of filmmakers working on the top-grossing films of 2020. That’s the highest number ever recorded.
That being said, the inclusion of women in the director’s category is the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak landscape. Over on the TV side, Misha Green’s Lovecraft Country is the only woman-helmed show to be recognized. The Flight Attendant, The Great, The Queen’s Gambit — all symbols of the new wave of emancipated messy girl power on TV — have male showrunners. What’s more there are at least eight (8!) all-white acting categories, six of which highlight only white women at the expense of Black actresses. In 2021, that is simply unacceptable.
As a result, two narratives will live side-by-side on February 28: Hollywood’s continuing ties to a disappointing past, and the promise of a better future, as we wait in suspense to find out not whether a woman has won the coveted statuette, but which one.