Oscars 2021: the female-directed films that should – and could – have been nominated at this year’s awards

Here are 10 non-male directed films that could easily be rubbing shoulders with those that have been nominated at this years Oscars
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A lot has been said about how right the Academy have got ‘it’ this year, with a diverse range of nominations marking a break from the Oscar’s predominantly white, male contingent.

In particular, the Best Director category – which has only even been won by a woman once – where the Academy has nominated two women in one year for the first time in its 93-year existence.

Both Chloé Zhao – also the first woman of colour to receive the nod – and Emerald Fennell are truly deserving of their nominations, but while two out of five nominations ain’t bad, it’s only a start.

Just a handful of 2020's female-directed offerings, which should have received more Oscar love (Photos: Netflix/A24)Just a handful of 2020's female-directed offerings, which should have received more Oscar love (Photos: Netflix/A24)
Just a handful of 2020's female-directed offerings, which should have received more Oscar love (Photos: Netflix/A24)

The Baftas proved recently that there is much more on offer from non-male directors; four out of the six nominations for the best director category were women.

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So while the Oscars is rightly getting praise for the steps forward it is making, there are bigger strides to be had.

Could Covid be to blame?

Despite the extenuating circumstances of the outside world, 2020 and early 2021 have been relatively bountiful for film fans.

That has a lot to do with the time it takes to turn around a movie – many of the film projects that have graced our screens in the last 12 months would have been completed long before the pandemic.

Whether the effects of socially distanced sets, scaled down crews and fewer on location shoots will come to belatedly bite moviegoers in the months and years to come remains to be seen.

But Covid-19 has also had an impact on how widespread many film’s cinema releases have been.

The Academy has eligibility rules that stretch beyond simply when a film is released; one of its rules states that eligible films must have been screened in an LA cinema at some point.

That’s a privilege many ‘smaller’ films simply don’t have – with major studios less likely to back female directors, those films don’t often have the same marketing weight behind them – especially during a global pandemic.

Many independent distributors had to fight for space on streaming sites while cinemas remained shuttered in the last year, and that could explain Rocks’ exclusion from the nominations list.

Rocks received as many nominations as Nomadland at this year’s Baftas, and dominated both nominations and wins at the British Independent Film Awards in February. But it's yet to receive a nomination from any US based awards ceremonies.

It's arguably British director Sarah Gavron’s finest work (she previously directed the Carey Mulligan starring Suffragette), and is a coming-of-age tale about a London teen who must take care of her younger brother after their mother abruptly leaves.

It's funny, it’s fresh, and it’s available on Netflix if you want to seek it out.

Who else could have been nominated?

One Night in Miami has received plenty of nominations this year, and is currently crossing its fingers for wins in the best supporting actor, best adapted screenplay and best song categories at the Oscars.

But it oddly received relatively little love for the directorial effort of Regina King, making the transition to behind the camera for the first time and turning in an assuredly confident screen adaptation of a play in which four icons of black culture meet for a fateful conversation.

Babyteeth is another coming-of-age drama that’s sensitively directed by Shannon Murphy, and another directorial debut, with Murphy’s previous directing efforts confined to the small screen (she’s helmed episodes of Killing Eve in the past).

It’s an Australian production, so may have been off the Academy’s radar, but its tale of a 16-year-old girl who falls in love with a drug-addict shortly before a terminal cancer recurrence is as powerful as its story is messy.

The Academy and Netflix have a famously thorny relationship, and eligibility rules pertaining to physical screenings are certainly at play with The Half of It.

On the surface, it's just another high-school rom-com. But writer/director Alice Wu quickly takes an unconventional route through your expectations, presenting her story of an introverted student who helps the school jock woo a girl in a way that is smart, tender and funny.

At the time of writing, Make Up is the highest rated non-male-directed 2020 film on Rotten Tomatoes.

Yet another directorial debut – this time from Claire Oakley – the review aggregator called the thriller about a teen who makes an unnerving discovery about her boyfriend, “eerily unsettling”.

What else?

Then there's Farewell Amor (another debut feature) from writer-director Ekwa Msangi, a drama that tells the story of an Angolan immigrant reunited in the US with his wife and daughter, and a film that had critics in floods of compliments.

Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow saw the veteran director taking viewers back to her beloved Pacific NorthWest for the story of a travelling cook who finds connection with a Chinese immigrant, while Radha Black’s The Forty-Year-Old Version mixed humour and hip-hop for a subversive musical tale that should have received much more attention.

Saint Maud was a psychological horror from writer-director debutant Rose Glass, an outstanding British film that caught the eye of Bafta this year, and Blow the Man Down – directed by a female duo – found a home for its funny and original cinematic journey on Amazon Prime, but not on the ballots of the Academy.

Maybe 2022’s nominations will be even more equal when it comes to the gender balance; there's certainly enough talent out there.

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