How women are dominating 2021's record-breaking awards season

This year, awards season is different for many reasons, and the most important one is gender balance

FILE - In this file photo, Director Chloe Zhao, left, appears with actress Frances McDormand on the set of "Nomadland."  “Nomadland” has won four prizes, including best picture, at the British Academy Film Awards on Sunday, April 11, 2021. The film’s director, Chloe Zhao, became only the second woman to win the best director trophy, and star Frances McDormand was named best actress. “Nomadland” also took the cinematography prize on Sunday. Emerald Fennell’s revenge comedy “Promising Young Woman” was named best British film, while the best actor trophy went to 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins for playing a man grappling with dementia in “The Father.” An event that was criticized in the recent past with the label #BAFTAsSoWhite rewarded a diverse group of talents, during a pandemic-curbed ceremony at London’s Royal Albert Hall. (Searchlight Pictures via AP, FIle)
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Nothing about awards season for 2021 has been usual. Ceremonies have been pared back, red carpets have been largely virtual and star-studded audiences are a thing of the past.

But it’s not just the pandemic that has made this awards season different, the awards themselves are changing, too. In fact, they are breaking records.

Across the Golden Globes, Grammys and Sunday night's Bafta Awards, women are breaking records. From the most female directors to ever be nominated in categories across the major film awards, to women of colour taking home best director and actress gongs for the first time, 2021's unusual awards season has been a breath of fresh air for gender and racial diversity.

The Golden Globes kicked off the record-setting trend in February, when it named the nominees in its Best Director category, three out of five of whom were women – Regina King for One Night in Miami, Chloe Zhao for Nomadland and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman.

Emerald Fennell along with Ben Browning, Ashley Fox and Josey Mcnamara receives Outstanding British Film BAFTA award for "Promising Young Woman", during the 74th British Academy Film Awards in London, Britain, April 11, 2021. BAFTA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY IN REPORTING ON - 74TH BRITISH ACADEMY FILM AWARDS. IMAGE MUST BE USED IN ITS ENTIRETY - NO CROPPING OR OTHER MODIFICATIONS. NO NEW USE AFTER 2300GMT ON APRIL 18, 2021.
Emerald Fennell receives the Outstanding British Film Bafta Award for 'Promising Young Woman'. EPA

Throughout its history, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had only nominated five women for the Best Director award, and the category has never had more than one woman nominated in any one year. Barbra Streisand was the only woman to ever win, for Yentl in 1984.

That was until 2021, when Zhao reigned victorious for Nomadland, her recession-era portrait of itinerant people in the American West.

Zhao, alongside Fennell, also make up a record-breaking crop of female nominees in the Best Director category at the Oscars, which this year has more than one woman nominated for the first time in the event's history. Zhao's inclusion also makes her the first woman of colour to ever be nominated in that category.

epa09129682 A handout photo made available by the BAFTA shows director Chloe Zhao accepting the award for best 'Film' for 'Nomadland'  during the 74th annual British Academy Film Award at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Britain, 11 April 2021. The ceremony is hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).  EPA/BAFTA / HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES *** Local Caption *** 55845468
Director Chloe Zhao accepting the Bafta Award for best film for 'Nomadland'. EPA

Should she win, it will continue Nomadland's award season reign, in which she has already created history. Not only did the film sweep the Bafta Awards on Sunday night, taking home four out of a possible seven gongs – including Best Director – she took the top honours at Saturday night's 73rd annual Directors Guild of America Awards.

She is the first woman of colour to do so, and only the second woman to ever earn the honour. Kathryn Bigelow was the first for The Hurt Locker.

She is joined in a similar feat by actress Youn Yuh-Jung, 73, who has become the first South Korean actress to win at both the Baftas and the Screen Actors Guild Awards for her supporting role in Minari, standing her in good stead to make it a triple win with her nomination at the Oscars, set to take place later in April.

And it's not just in the world of film that women are smashing records in 2021. Both Beyonce and Taylor Swift smashed through industry glass ceilings at this year's Grammy Awards.

In February, Queen Bey showed the world exactly how she earned that title, taking home her 28th Grammy award, making her the most awarded woman in Grammys history.

"I am so honoured, I'm so excited," she said while accepting her record-breaking trophy for best R'n'B performance. Her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, 9, made Grammys history herself, becoming the second-youngest person to ever win an award for her part in her mother's track Brown Skin Girl.

Swift set another female-led record, becoming the first woman to win Album of the Year three times with Folklore. 

Almost all major awards ceremonies have faced diversity criticism in years gone by, and while those calls to progress are far from over, 2021’s season has shown people are finally starting to take notice, and with the biggest night of the calendar still to come, there could be more than a few records left to set yet.