Nomadland's Chloé Zhao and Promising Young Woman's Emerald Fennell shatter Oscars history for women, while Zhao becomes the first woman of color to receive a nod in the category.

By Joey Nolfi
March 15, 2021 at 08:51 AM EDT

Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell have made history for women at the Oscars.

For the first time in its 93-year existence, the Academy has nominated two women for Best Director in one year. The Nomadland and Promising Young Woman helmers received the nods on Monday morning, becoming the sixth and seventh women to ever appear in the category.

While both women's nominations are significant, the Beijing-born Zhao's nomination breaks new ground for the Oscars on its own, as she is now the first woman of color to be nominated for Best Director.

Before today, the Academy's directing branch had recognized just five women in the category since 1976, when Seven Beauties helmer Lina Wermüller blazed a trail as the bracket's first woman to be nominated. In 1994, Jane Campion became the second for her work on 1993's The Piano. Campion was followed by Sofia Coppola in 2004 (Lost in Translation), Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 (The Hurt Locker), and Greta Gerwig in 2018 (Lady Bird).

To date, Bigelow is the only woman to have won Best Director. Still, Nomadland — starring Frances McDormand as a drifter traveling the country in her van in the wake of economic strife — is widely expected to take the Best Picture prize at the April 25 Oscars ceremony, and Zhao remains a frontrunner for Best Director after scooping up a similar prize at the Golden Globes (where Zhao became the first Asian woman to win) and Critics Choice Awards.

Fennell's Promising Young Woman was originally supposed to be released theatrically in April 2020, though the pandemic pushed its rollout to December, when it quickly became one of the buzziest titles of the year before steamrolling the precursor circuit before scoring multiple Oscar nods (including one for Best Picture) this morning.

 "There's something about that piece of landscape in a country that's so young, and the things we talk about are so of today. To escape into the heartland and the American West is a very rejuvenating experience for me every time I go," Zhao previously told EW of directing Nomadland. "I just feel like I'm part of something bigger."

The Oscars air Sunday, April 25 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC.

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Nomadland (2021 movie)

  • Movie
  • Chloe Zhao