This year's Academy Awards was a win for one female director. Ava DuVernay earned a 2017 Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature for her Netflix original documentary 13th, which looks at the connection between race and the criminal justice system in the United States. While there are other women nominated in this category as producers, DuVernay is the only female director nominated in that category. As a refresher, her movie Selma was nominated for Best Picture at the 87th annual Academy Awards, but she was snubbed for Best Director at that ceremony. Not this time.
DuVernay's 2015 snub was especially disheartening because she would have been the first black woman to land a directing nod. By earning the nomination for Documentary Feature, though, she follows in the footsteps of other women who have thrived in this category. The Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego State University revealed in 2014 that women made up 29 percent of directors working on documentaries. This year the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film also found that women were more likely to work in documentaries, reporting that 24 percent of those working in that genre were women.
This hasn't gone unnoticed by the Academy. Variety reported that, in the last decade, 12 female directors have been nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Eleven female non-fiction directors have also won an Oscar in the documentary categories; this includes 2014's winner Laura Poitras, who won the Best Documentary Feature for CitizenFour, a profile of whistleblower and American fugitive Edward Snowden.
These numbers may sound small compared to the history of the documentary award, which was first given out in 1942. But knowing that The Hurt Locker's Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to win Best Director ever, it's hard not to celebrate this number.
There will also be another reason to celebrate if DuVernay should win this award. She would be the first African-American woman to win the little gold man for Best Feature. In history, there has been only one African-American who has won this award. It was T.J. Martin in 2012 for his film Undefeated, which looks at a struggling Memphis football team during a rare winning season.
DuVernay's 13th will go up against Fire at Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, Life, Animated, and O.J.: Made in America. Her film is particularly timely in this political climate. 13th looks at race relations in America by speaking with people that cover the political spectrum. While she interviews CNN pundit Van Jones, who was President Barack Obama’s Special Advisor for Green Jobs, she also speaks with former Republican Speaker of the House, and President Donald Trump supporter, Newt Gingrich.
Last year, the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature went to Amy, a look at the tragically short life of singer Amy Winehouse. We'll have to wait until Feb. 26 to see if DuVernay will be the one to take it home this year.