DGA Nominations: Emerald Fennell and Chloe Zhao Make the Cut, Three POC in First-Time Feature

By Clayton Davis

On the same day that the BAFTA Awards weighed in with their choices on the best film and directing achievements of the year, the prestigious (and typically more telling of Oscar nominations) DGA Awards dropped their nominees, with some historic nods.

Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) and Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) became the ninth and tenth women ever to be nominated by the Directors Guild of America. Zhao is the first woman of color to ever be nominated. They join a small list of women that have been recognized by the large guild: Lina Wertmüller (“Seven Beauties”), Randa Haines (“Children of a Lesser God”), Barbra Streisand (“The Prince of Tides”), Jane Campion (“The Piano”), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), Valerie Faris (who shared her nom with co-director Jonathan Dayton for “Little Miss Sunshine”), Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”) and Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”). That brings the grand total of 11 slots that have been given to women in the DGA’s history.

The first-time feature film director category, which was introduced in 2015, had many of the year’s top awards contenders in the mix, but no overlap, which was surprising considering Fennell made the main lineup. Three filmmakers of color made it into the category, including Radha Blank (“The Forty-Year-Old Version”), Fernando Frias de la Parra (“I’m No Longer Here”) and Regina King (“One Night in Miami”). The trio is joined by Darius Marder (“Sound of Metal”) and Florian Zeller (“The Father”).

Past winners for the first-time feature director have included Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”), Garth Davis (“Lion”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), Bo Burnham (“Eighth Grade”) and Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”), with only Peele securing an Oscar nomination. Burnham famously beat Bradley Cooper (“A Star Is Born”), who was nominated in both DGA categories but was snubbed for an Oscar nomination in best director.

There have been five women previously nominated for first-time director: Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”), Kelly Fremon Craig (“The Edge of Seventeen”), Mati Diop (“Atlantics”), Melina Matsoukas (“Queen & Slim”) and the aforementioned Har’el.

“Throughout these challenging and isolating times, the universal power of film has served such a meaningful role in our culture — helping fulfill our needs for human connection, expanding our worldviews, and keeping us inspired through stunning storytelling and artistry,” said DGA President Thomas Schlamme. “I congratulate our five nominees whose diverse and extraordinary films embodied that universal power in a year that will never be forgotten.”

With one day of Oscar voting remaining, how much of an impact will this have, or does is double down on what many of us already know?

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari” (A24)
Unit Production Manager: Dylan Brodie
First Assistant Director: Jeff Dubray
Second Assistant Director: Ann Laudick
Second Second Assistant Director: Stephen J. Hanan
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
Unit Production Manager: Reena Magsarili Raasch
First Assistant Director: Michael T. Meador
Second Assistant Director: Alexander Armero
Second Second Assistant Director: Anthony Manzo
David Fincher, “Mank” (Netflix)Unit Production Manager: Allen Kupetsky
First Assistant Director: Richard Goodwin
Second Assistant Director: Samantha McGrady
Second Second Assistant Director: Matt McKinnon
Additional Second Assistant Directors: Jeff Goodell, John Stern, George Williams III
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)
Unit Production Managers: Charles Miller, Stuart M. Besser, Jonathan Shoemaker
First Assistant Director: Joseph P. Reidy
Second Assistant Director: Rachel Jaros
Second Second Assistant Director: Justin Bischoff
Location Managers: Dennis Voskov, Nick Rafferty (Chicago Unit)
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)
Unit Production Manager: Mary Kerrigan
First Assistant Director: Mary Kerrigan

Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director
Radha Blank, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” (Netflix)
Unit Production Manager: James Price
First Assistant Director: Michael L. Walker
Second Assistant Director: Kenyon Noble
Second Second Assistant Director: Jonathan Santos
Location Managers: Katarina Dedicova, Tim Stacker
Fernando Frias de la Parra, “I’m No Longer Here” (Netflix)
Production Managers: Martín Pérez Valle, Assia Fratz (New York Unit)
First Assistant Director: Carlos Suazo
Second Assistant Directors: Alí Santiago, Alex Burstein (New York Unit)
Second Second Assistant Directors: Karen Alcázar, Anthony James Faure (New York Unit)
Regina King, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)
Unit Production Manager: Paul O. Davis
First Assistant Director: Mark Anthony Little
Second Assistant Director: Kevin O’Neil
Darius Marder, “Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios)
Unit Production Manager: Amy Greene
First Assistant Director: Matthew Vose Campbell
Florian Zeller, “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics)
First Assistant Director: George Every
Second Assistant Director: Jamie D. Allen

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentaries
“Boys State” (A24/Apple TV Plus) – Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss
“The Truffle Hunters” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
“My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix) – Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed
“The Painter and the Thief” (Neon/Elevation Pictures)
“Welcome to Chechnya” (HBO) – David France

Last year, Sam Mendes won the top film award for Universal Pictures’ “1917” before losing best picture and director to Neon’s “Parasite” from Bong Joon-ho.

This year’s DGA Awards will take place on Saturday, April 10, with details to come on how the ceremony will be handled. Prolific TV director and former DGA president Paris Barclay is set to receive the DGA Honorary Life Member Award.

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