You can count the number of female directors nominated for the Academy Awards with two hands. Since its inception in 1929, there have only been seven: Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties); Jane Campion (The Piano and The Power of Dog); Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation); Katheryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker); Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird); Chloe Zhao (Nomadlands); and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman).
Of the seven women, it was Kathryn Bigelow who took the first win for her 2010 war thriller — 81 years after the first Oscars. She was followed by Chloe Zhao in 2020, and two-time nominee Jane Campion in 2021. This year, only two female-directed movies (Women Talking and The Woman King) are predicted to get an Oscar nod for best picture, and their directors, Sarah Polley and Gina Prince-Bythewood respectively, for best director. Meanwhile, the Golden Globes snubbed women entirely in the 2023 nominations for best director.
To this day, female-directed movies account for only a small percentage of top-grossing releases. Women only made up 17% of directors of the top 250 films of 2021. With the odds stacked against them, nominations for the women behind the camera are even fewer and farther between, but not for a lack of talent. Dame Heather Rabbatts of Time’s Up UK says that the reason for the lack of women filmmakers is two-fold: one, the majority of directors are men who hire other men; and two, there aren’t a lot of female directors to serve as role models for aspiring filmmakers.
The decade did kick off to a promising start with an increase in the number of female-directed movies, as well as women directors signing on to do big-budget projects. There was a slight regression last year but we hope 2023 can pick up the steam again. I want to see more female-directed movies get made. More importantly, I want to see more women directors get the support and recognition they deserve for their work.
If you want to see more films with women behind the scenes, these are the five female-directed movies I’m looking forward to this year:
Cocaine Bear, Elizabeth Banks
Based on this title alone, Cocaine Bear seems like it’s going to be a wild ride. But Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2 and Charlie’s Angels) is no stranger to directing movies with unhinged characters — even if that character is an untamed animal on drugs.
The upcoming female-directed dark comedy thriller is loosely based on a 1985 story of an American black bear that accidentally ingested a bag of cocaine and died. Only in Banks’ version of the tale, the bear goes on a violent rampage before it bites the dust. The local community — comprised of characters played by Keri Russell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and the late Ray Liotta — must survive the dangerous woods where a cocaine-fueled bear runs amuck.
I can only wait in excitement for what could be one of the most bizarre blockbusters for the year. Based on the trailer, it is ridiculously campy, entertaining, and even a little nostalgic for the 80s — just the kind of diversity you’d expect from a female-directed movie.
Release date: February 24
Nightbitch, Marielle Heller
As a director, Marielle Heller is interested in making films on subjects that people are uncomfortable discussing. Like growing up and sexuality in The Diary of the Teenage Girl and loneliness in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Even in the female-directed movie about Mr. Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, she wanted to address human emotion and pain through the eyes of the beloved television show host.
Nightbitch, a Hulu adaptation of Rachel Yoder’s debut novel, talks about the darker, more ferocious side of motherhood. Amy Adams plays an unnamed artist-turned-stay-at-home mom who suspects that she’s beginning to transform into a dog. Not a metaphorical canine but an actual creature with thick fur, sharp teeth, and animalistic impulses, all while she’s expected to care for her toddler.
To be honest, I’m most excited to witness Amy Adams in a leading role in a body horror film, but I also can’t wait to hear what Marie Heller has to say about motherhood. While there is no shortage of films, some female-directed, tackling it, there are many unfamiliar aspects of being a mother that we minimize for the more rewarding side of the role. Yoder wrote the novel from personal experience on the strangeness and demands of motherhood, and I’m hoping Heller is able to translate it well on screen.
Release date: TBA
Suncoast, Laura Chinn
The makers of The Black List, an annual compilation of brilliant but unproduced screenplays, will be delighted to know that 2020 mention Suncoast is finally being made. Part autobiographical, the script was written by Laura Chinn who is also slated to direct the movie under Searchlight Pictures.
Here’s what we know about Suncoast so far: it’s a coming-of-age drama about a teenager and her relationships — with a difficult mother, a sick brother, and an eccentric activist. The story is set in a hospice where the controversial real-life case of Terri Schiavo is also taking place, so we can expect Suncoast to touch on an important ethical debate.
The female-directed coming-of-age drama may be Chinn’s directorial debut but she already has quite an impressive cast to bring her lines to life. Nico Parker (Dumbo) is taking on the lead role. She is joined by Laura Linney (Ozark), who plays her mother, and Woody Harrelson (Triangle of Sadness) as the activist.
Release date: TBA
The Marvels, Nia DaCosta
The age of superhero movies is, unsurprisingly, male-dominated. There are very few female-directed movies based on comic book characters from the MCU and DCEU. Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman and its sequel, Black Widow, Eternals, and Captain Marvel are pretty much it.
There was a major buzz when they announced that The Marvels, the planned sequel to Captain Marvel, was going to be helmed by Nia DaCosta. Not only does the role make The Marvels one of the few female-directed movies in the superhero genre, but it also made her the first black woman to direct a Marvel Studios film.
Before anyone protests, Nia DaCosta is not just a talented director with critically-acclaimed films like Little Woods and Candyman under her belt. She’s also a self-described “Marvel trash” who grew up with the comics and the movies. No one can question her knowledge of the MCU.
In developing the movie, DaCosta asked some very critical questions that the origin story lacked. “Who is she? What are her fears? What drives her? How do you actually deal with being the most powerful being in the universe?” The character, played by Brie Larson, felt two-dimensional and spoke one-liners. Convincing the audience that she was the most powerful superhero in the multiverse was a tall order. With a new female director asking the right questions, we might finally get the Captain Marvel movie we deserve.
Release date: July 28
Barbie, Greta Gerwig
Barbie is as iconic as a character gets. It’s a bit of a surprise that in an era of remakes and live-action adaptations, Mattel’s world-famous doll hasn’t gotten a blockbuster release yet. Thankfully, Greta Gerwig is going to change that.
It’s been over a decade since Universal Studios announced the project, but the titular role was only filled by Margot Robbie in 2019. Around the same time, Little Women director and writer Greta Gerwig was announced to pen the screenplay alongside partner Noah Baumbach. She officially signed on to direct Barbie in 2021.
All we know about the premise of Barbie so far is that the character has been exiled from Barbieland for being imperfect. It’s a comedy packed with adventure and romance between Barbie and her beau Ken, with a platinum blonde Ryan Gosling playing the male doll. You may have seen the neon pink teaser trailers already, so you know that Greta Gerwig went all out on giving us a full Barbie fantasy.
If there’s anything I know from Greta Gerwig’s past work is that she can write female characters with creativity and depth. I’m just glad that Barbie, one of the most legendary toys aimed at girls, is a female-directed movie and has the studio budget it deserves. The director did worry that the project would be a “career-ender” given Barbie’s legendary status in our culture. Gerwig asked herself, “Where do you even begin, and what would be the story?” No one is sure if the award-winning director is creating her own lore or, perhaps, writing the start to a Barbie franchise. After all, aren’t we all just living in Barbie’s world?
Release date: July 21