Jane Campion's Oscars history is a reminder female filmmakers are finally breaking ground

The New Zealander is the first woman to receive two Oscar nominations for Best Director

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Jane Campion entered Oscars history this week as the first, and only, female filmmaker to be put forward twice for the coveted Best Director award. Her latest nomination, for the Netflix-backed Western The Power of the Dog, lines up alongside her 1994 nod for The Piano.

Campion was widely tipped to become the first woman to receive the prize, especially after The Piano landed her Cannes’ prestigious Palme d’Or in 1993, in another first for a female director. It was not to be, however, and Steven Spielberg took the honour for Schindler’s List. Campion did, at least, take home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay alongside acting prizes for Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin.

Scroll through our gallery above to see the women who have been nominated for the Best Director Oscar.

Campion was only the second woman to be considered for the Best Director prize. The first was Lina Wertmuller for 1975’s Italian-language tragicomedy Seven Beauties. Like Campion, Wertmuller was ultimately left disappointed on the evening of the glittering ceremony, though she did eventually receive an Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 event.

Considering it took 48 years after the Oscars were first awarded in 1929 for Wertmuller to achieve her nomination, it could be argued that the Oscars have dramatically increased the representation of women since, but not at the pace women in the industry would have hoped.

It took 18 years after Wertmuller for Campion to receive the second nomination for a female director for The Piano, so there is an improvement, but hardly a prolific showing for female filmmakers. The wait then dropped to "only" 10 years when Sofia Coppola managed a third, and again, unsuccessful nomination for 2003’s Lost in Translation. Like Campion in 1993, Coppola did at least take home the consolation of the Best Original Screenplay award, for her bittersweet comedy.

Winner for Best Director and Best Picture Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker" gives her acceptance speech at the 82nd Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on March 7, 2010. AFP PHOTO Gabriel BOUYS (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Finally, about 80 years after the Oscars were created, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to pick up the 2010 Oscars' most coveted individual prize, for her 2008 Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker. The low-budget film took home a total of six awards, including for Best Original Screenplay and the other biggest prize of the night – Best Picture.

For added drama, appropriately enough for the event, Bigelow beat her ex-husband James Cameron to the Oscars’ biggest prizes. Cameron’s big-budget, box-office-smashing Avatar was up for nine awards on the night. He would have to settle for three smaller wins, however, for Art Direction, Cinematography and Visual Effects.

The two filmmakers, it should be noted, were diplomatic to a tee, despite a Hollywood press that was eager to emphasise the potentially highly personal nature of that year’s Oscars battle. Cameron, who was sitting behind his during the ceremony, was among the first to congratulate her for her wins, while Bigelow described her former beau in her post-Oscars interviews as “an extraordinary filmmaker”.

We might have expected the floodgates to open after Bigelow's win, but that didn't happen.

It would be another eight years before the next female director would picked up a nod for the big prize, Greta Gerwig this time, for 2017’s Lady Bird. Gerwig would leave the event empty-handed despite Lady Bird's five nominations, with even the almost ubiquitous Best Original Screenplay prize eluding the director.

The 2021 awards did finally have some overdue firsts when Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell’s nominations for Nomadland and Promising Young Woman respectively marked the first time two women made the final shortlist. Zhao went on to become only the second woman, and the first woman of colour, to successfully claim the prize.

So, can Campion make it second-time lucky?

The Power of the Dog is nominated in an impressive 12 categories this year – more than any other film. There are acting nods for Benedict Cumberbatch, Kristen Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Jesse Plemons, and further nominations for Film Editing, Original Score, Sound, Production Design, and Campion’s Adapted Screenplay.

There’s also the potential for further female Hollywood history to be made this year, should Ari Wegner, only the second woman to be nominated in the category, become the first to take home the Best Cinematography prize.

Campion will surely be hoping for Best Director at the second time of asking, however, and perhaps Best Picture for good measure, too. When The Piano lost out all those years ago, it was up against Spielberg’s all-conquering Schindler’s List, which had 12 nominations and picked up the coveted Director/Picture combo among its seven wins.

This time around, it’s Campion’s film that’s the hot favourite, with 12 nominations of its own. That’s no guarantee of success, and the Oscars panel can be unpredictable, but the director has every reason to be confident.

Updated: February 09, 2022, 2:04 PM
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