When the Academy Award nominations were announced in March, history was in the making.
For the first time ever, two female directors were vying for the Best Director prize. Chloe Zhao (for road movie Nomadland) and Emerald Fennell (for rape revenge saga Promising Young Woman) will compete with David Fincher (Mank), Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) and Lee Isaac Chung (Minari). Should either win, they'll become only the second female director ever to take the prize, after Kathryn Bigelow won in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.
More than anyone else, the focus will be on these newcomers. British filmmaker Fennell, famed for playing Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown, has three Oscar nominations in total (also Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay). Beijing-born Zhao has four nods (also Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Editing). After becoming the first Asian woman to win Best Director at the Golden Globes and Baftas, she's the favourite to triumph when the awards are announced on Sunday, April 25 at Union Station and Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, in a socially distanced ceremony.
However, beyond Fennell and Zhao, this has been a seismic moment for female nominees. In total, 70 women received 76 nominations, a record for any given year.
It's also been a remarkable time for first-time female nominees, whether animation producers such as Kori Rae (for Pixar's Onward) and Peilin Chou (Netflix's Over the Moon), or Palestinian-British Farah Nabulsi with her Bafta-winning live-action short The Present, or Garrett Bradley, who could become the first black woman to win in the Best Documentary category for her work Time.
Below are 10 more hot debutantes to watch out for in potentially the most historic Oscars to date.
Andra Day (Nominated for Best Actress – The United States vs Billie Holiday)
In her first ever acting performance, singer Andra Day's sizzling turn as Billie Holiday has led to a first Oscar nomination. She's already won the Golden Globe, and this heart-wrenching look at the Strange Fruit singer's troubled life could lead Day to become only the second black woman to claim Best Actress (after Halle Berry for Monster's Ball). Day, a two-time Grammy nominee, best known for 2015 track Rise Up, has already broken the mould with her fellow nominee Viola Davis (for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom).
The only previous time two women of colour were up for Best Actress was in 1973, when Cicely Tyson and Diana Ross both lost out to Liza Minelli. In what might be an omen, Ross played Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues.
Maria Bakalova (Nominated for Best Supporting Actress – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm)
A little more than six months ago, few people outside her native Bulgaria had heard of Bakalova, 24. Now she's the first Bulgarian to be nominated for an Oscar for her role in Sacha Baron Cohen's riotous mock-doc sequel Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. As Tutar, the daughter to Cohen's Kazakhstani journalist, she drew rave reviews for a turn that saw her mingle with unsuspecting members of the American public and leave former New York major Rudy Giuliani red-faced.
She's won more than 20 awards, but an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress would be the pinnacle of an incredible year.
Youn Yuh-jung (Nominated for Best Supporting Actress – Minari)
Youn Yuh-jung, 73, became the first Korean actress to win an Oscar nomination for her role in Lee Isaac Chung's semi-autobiographical Minari. The veteran star in Korean cinema, with a career stretching back more than 50 years, has captured hearts with her performance as Soonja, the unconventional grandmother in a Korean family living in rural Arkansas.
After winning a Bafta for Best Supporting Actress, she’s now up for the same award at the Oscars – although it’s all left her bamboozled. “I don’t know what’s going on now, I don’t know what’s happening to me,” she said backstage after the Baftas.
Jasmila Zbanic (Nominated for Best International Feature Film – Quo Vadis, Aida?)
Fennell and Zhao are not the only female directors with the spotlight on them at this year's Oscars. Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic competes in the Best International Feature Film category with Quo Vadis, Aida?, a powerful drama set during the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 with the horrifying events seen through the eyes of a UN translator.
Zbanic is no stranger to awards. Her 2006 film Grbavica, set in the aftermath of the Bosnian War, won the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear. And if her film wins, she'll be following her countryman Danis Tanovic, who won the same prize for his Bosnian war drama No Man's Land in 2002.
Kaouther Ben Hania (Nominated for Best International Feature Film – The Man Who Sold His Skin)
When Kaouther Ben Hania first pitched The Man Who Sold His Skin, she was told by financiers "it's too international for you", and to maybe even shoot it as a documentary. Persisting, Ben Hania's second film has now become Tunisia's first-ever Oscar nominee, competing for Best International Feature Film – a huge moment for the country and for her.
The story of a Syrian refugee who agrees to an artist tattooing a Schengen visa on his back, this film about art and exploitation has already resonated wherever it’s played. The film’s star, Syrian refugee Yahya Mahayni, already won the Venice Horizons Award for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival last year. The big prize, however, would be an Academy Award.
Trisha Summerville (Nominated for Best Costume Design – Mank)
She famously put Christina Aguilera in chaps for Dirrty and dressed Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. But debutante Best Costume Design nominee Summerville stunned film fans with her work on Mank, David Fincher's monochrome period drama set around the scripting of Citizen Kane.
Using colours that would fit the technical necessities of making movies in black-and-white, Summerville's dazzling array of costumes perfectly recreated 1930s Hollywood. Should she be victorious, she will be only the second designer to win for a black-and-white film in the past 50 years (following Mark Bridges for The Artist).
Christina Oh (Nominated for Best Picture – Minari)
When Korean/American family drama Minari was marginalised at the Golden Globes, it made history for the wrong reasons.
The film – which is set in America – was denied the chance to compete for Best Picture due to more than 50 per cent of the dialogue not being in English. Thankfully, the Academy Awards are more open-minded, meaning that Minari's sole producer Christina Oh gets her chance to compete for Best Picture and possibly replicate the success of Bong Joon-ho's surprise 2020 Oscar winner, South Korean tale Parasite.
Like Promising Young Woman and The Father, Minari has been on the Oscar trail since Sundance 2020, where it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. For Oh – who works for Plan B, the company co-owned by Brad Pitt – triumphing at the Oscars would be the crowning glory of a 15-month awards-season journey.
Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson (Nominated for Best Hair and Makeup – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
The film version of August Wilson's play Ma Rainey's Black Bottom stands a strong chance in several categories – including the late Chadwick Boseman becoming only the third actor to win a posthumous Oscar. However, history was made with Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson becoming the first black Oscar nominees in the make-up and hairstyling category.
Neal is the film's hair and wig designer and Wilson is the personal hairstylist for Boseman's co-star – and fellow nominee – Viola Davis. The team already won the Bafta and sharing their nomination with Davis's personal make-up artist, first-time nominee Sergio Lopez-Rivera, the work these women did to bring Davis's 1920s blues singer Ma Rainey alive is nothing short of sensational.
Genevieve Camilleri (Best Visual Effects – Love and Monsters)
The world of visual effects has traditionally been a male-dominated one, something that can be reflected in the fact that only two women have ever won Academy Awards for working in the field of VFX – Sara Bennett for 2016's Ex Machina and Suzanne M Benson, for 1986's Aliens.
This year, Genevieve Camilleri – the only female nominee in the VFX category – will be hoping to change that for her work on the action-comedy Love and Monsters. Together with her colleagues Matt Sloan, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox, she's up for the award – although they have some tough opposition, including Christopher Nolan's team who produced the jaw-dropping effects for Tenet (and won this year's Bafta).