The Female Directors Nominated For Emmys This Year

The 2021 Emmys was a milestone year for female directors with women winning the Outstanding Directing award for both the comedy and drama categories. Previously, only around ten women had received a directing award for fictional programming since the start of the ceremony in 1955. This year, women make up almost half the director nominees and are even dominating in the comedy category. Here are the nine female director nominees who will be honored at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards.

Karyn Kusama – “Yellowjackets”

Courtesy of Paul Sarkis, Showtime.

A graduate of NYU’s film school, Kusama made her directorial debut with “Girlfight” (2000) in which she explored the gender and power dynamics in boxing. Best known for her 2009 cult classic “Jennifer’s Body,” Kusama is no stranger to stories about teenage girls and cannibalism. This makes “Yellowjackets,” a show about a girls’ high school soccer team trapped in the wilderness after a plane crash, right up her alley. Also the executive producer of the show, Kusama directed the pilot episode which she received her Emmy nomination for. As she told Vanity Fair, Kusama sees “Yellowjackets” as a war story about women and as a way to “romanticize this idea that we just are left to fend for ourselves as women.”

Cathy Yan – “Succession”

Courtesy of Claudette Barius.

Born in China and later immigrating to the US, Yan began her career as a reporter but eventually attended film school at NYU. In 2018, Yan made her directorial debut with “Dead Pigs,” which premiered at Sundance. She then directed the 2020 Harley Quinn movie, “Birds of Prey,” becoming the first Asian woman to ever direct any US superhero film. As a huge fan of “Succession,” Yan was thrilled to begin her TV career with directing the season three episode “The Disruption,” which she is nominated for. Growing up with few Asian female directors to look up to, she told Deadline, “If [seeing me as a director] is helpful to anyone in any way, or if it shows someone a different perspective on some of these stories, it’s very humbling to be a part of that.”

Lorene Scafaria – “Succession”

Courtesy of Focus Features.

After writing and acting in plays in New York, Scafaria had her Hollywood breakthrough when she wrote the 2008 rom-com “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” She then began directing with “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” (2012) and is now most known for “Hustlers” (2019). Despite normally working in film, Scafaria, a big “Succession” fan, asked around to try to get a directing job on the show. She was eventually hired to direct season three’s “Too Much Birthday” which she is nominated for. As Scafaria told Vanity Fair, she loves the way that the episode, set at a chaotic, lavish birthday party, “cuts to the core of some of the characters.”

Lucia Aniello – “Hacks”

Courtesy of Mario Anzuoni.

Graduating from Columbia University with a degree in film studies, the Italian-born director got her start with sketch comedy. She met her creative partner and husband, Paul W. Downs while studying improvisational comedy at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. The two of them went on to create web series together, write for “Broad City” and eventually co-create “Hacks.” Aniello won the 2021 Best Comedy Directing Emmy for the pilot episode of “Hacks” and is nominated again this year for the season two episode, “There Will Be Blood.” Aniello told Time that she wants fans to “feel seen” by the series and hopes “that it can be a safe harbor in a lot of ways for people for 31 minutes at a time.”

Cherien Dabis – “Only Murders in the Building”

Courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

As a Palestinian-American who grew up in the Midwest, Dabis pursued film as a platform for social change and to share her perspective. After graduating from Columbia with an MFA in film, Dabis wrote for “The L Word.” She also directed multiple short and feature films which all premiered at Sundance, her most recent being the 2013 “May in the Summer,” starring Dabis and set in Jordan where she spent her childhood summers. When offered to direct her nominated “Only Murders in the Building” episode, “The Boy From 6B,” she was presented with a unique challenge. The episode, which would be from the perspective of a deaf character, would be completely silent. Always up for a challenge, Dabis recalled to the LA Times, “They pitched me doing a silent episode of television, and I thought, ‘If I wasn’t in before, I’m definitely in now.’”

Jamie Babbit – “Only Murders in the Building”

Courtesy of Frameline.

After graduating from Barnard College, Babbit began her film career with assistant and script supervisor jobs in the 90s, working with big names like Scorcese and Fincher. Fincher helped her produce her first short film “Sleeping Beauties” which premiered at Sundance in 1998. From there, Babbit made her feature debut with “But I’m a Cheerleader” the 1999 cult classic satire about a lesbian teenage girl sent to conversion therapy camp. Since then, Babbit has continued to direct for film and TV and is now nominated for directing the “Only Murders in the Building” pilot. Although independent film is her biggest passion, she enjoys working in TV to keep up her skills and income. As she told Autostraddle, “I wouldn’t be happy if I was just making indie movies, and I wouldn’t be happy if I was just doing TV. I like the mix.”

MJ Delaney – “Ted Lasso”

Courtesy of Gerardo Madrazo.

Born in London, Delaney began her career with a viral music video, a parody of Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” The attention from the video landed her a job directing an award-winning campaign for Aldi. While working primarily in commercials, Delaney has also combined her talent with social activism, creating promo videos and campaigns championing women’s rights. For two years in a row, Delaney has been Emmy-nominated for her directing on “Ted Lasso,” this year being for the season two episode, “No Weddings And A Funeral.” As Delaney told Variety, although the show is normally cheerful and sincere, occasionally “there’s a hell of a lot of the deep, dark and meaningful, and you worry sometimes, ‘Should I be putting levity in this?’”

Mary Lou Belli – “The Ms. Pat Show”

Courtesy of Mary Lou Belli.

Perhaps one of the most unsuspected nominees of this year’s awards is Mary Lou Belli, an often underappreciated sitcom veteran, for her work on BET Plus’ “The Ms. Pat Show.” Starting as a musical theatre and soap opera actress in New York, Belli later moved to Los Angeles to produce theatre. Eventually, she began her thirty-year-long television career, directing over 150 episodes of television. She has also written four books centered on her experience and knowledge in directing television. In regards to her nomination for the episode, “Baby Daddy Groundhog Day,” Belli is thrilled, telling Variety, “I’m so pleased. It was my big return to sitcoms.”

Francesca Gregorini – “The Dropout”

Courtesy of Francesca Gregorini via Instagram.

Born in Italy to “Bond Girl” Barbara Bach, Gregorini made her directorial debut with the 2009 coming-of-age film, “Tanner Hall,” loosely inspired by her own experience attending boarding school as a child. She then went on to win the LA Femme Filmmaker award for her 2013 thriller, “The Truth About Emanuel.” More recently Gregorini has directed episodes of “Killing Eve” and “The Dropout,” the notorious story of healthcare tech fraud, Elizabeth Holmes. Gregorini has been nominated for her episode, “The Iron Lady,” making her the only female director nominated for the Emmys’ limited series category. As she told The Moveable Fest, “For me, it’s all about the telling of the story. And I think it’s just something that I’ve always had to do for my own sanity‎.”

The 74th Emmys Awards will air Monday, Sept. 12 on NBC and live stream on Peacock.

By Emily Ince

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