Eat your heart out, Sam Elliott! On Sunday night, Jane Campion took home Best Director for her Western The Power of the Dog—a Western psychological thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a toxic but charismatic gay cowboy who torments his new sister-in-law. Fellow nominees in the category this year included Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Steven Spielberg (West Side Story) and Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car).
“I love directing because it’s a deep dive into story, yet the task of manifesting a world can be overwhelming,” Campion said during her speech. “The sweet thing is I’m not alone.”
You know your awards show has a problem when the presenters start going rogue—and for the past few years, award shows’ failure to recognize female directors has become a meme. Natalie Portman congratulated the “all male nominees” for direction at the 2018 Golden Globes, while Issa Rae announced the 2020 Best Director Oscar nominees with a quiet, “Congratulations to those men.”
Campion’s directing win, following Chloé Zhao’s victory with Nomadland last year, brings us to a grand total of three women who’ve taken home the gold statuette for direction. The Kiwi director is also the only woman to receive more than one directing nod at the Academy Awards. (Her first arrived with 1993’s The Piano.)
Only seven women have ever been nominated for Best Director (including Campion). The first was Lina Wertmüller in 1976 for the World War II movie Seven Beauties. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director with 2008’s The Hurt Locker. And last year’s race marked the first time that two women managed to claw their way into the category at the same time—Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman, and winner Zhao with Nomadland.
Female directors face a two-pronged dilemma at the Oscars. First, there’s Hollywood’s historic tendency to validate stories made by and for a certain demographic (white, cis, male) while dismissing others. And then there’s the more specific problem: While 18 Best Picture nominees have been directed by women, only seven women have been nominated for Best Director.
So it’s easy to understand why Campion’s triumphant awards circuit has felt like an ongoing dance party. Her trip to the Critics Choice Awards, where she took home Best Director, had the ebullient energy of a victory lap. Let’s just hope that all future speeches, like Sunday’s, avoid any more awkward comments about Venus and Serena Williams.