The first woman to ever be nominated for an Oscar for Best Director is finally getting her long-overdue recognition. Lina Wertmüller, first nominated in 1977 for her film Seven Beauties, is one of only five women to ever be nominated for the prestigious award since the award was created in 1927. This weekend, Wertmüller was given an honorary Academy Award at this year’s Governors Awards.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Wertmüller was surprised to hear that she was one of only five women who have been nominated for Best Director alongside Jane Campion for The Piano, Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, and Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. Out of that short list of women, Bigelow is the only woman who won.
“I didn’t even know,” said Wertmüller. “I’m obviously very happy and proud and full of admiration but five is too few. There should be a lot more.”
Her film Seven Beauties caught the attention of Hollywood and the Academy. Wertmüller didn’t win the award. Instead, Best Director went to John G. Avildsen for Rocky, but Wertmüller didn’t pay much attention to whether she won awards. “Lina never gave too much importance to awards,” Wertmüller’s biographer, Valerio Ruiz, said to the AP. “She left that for other people to talk about.”
As a protégé of Italian director Federico Fellini, Wertmüller began her career in film assisting him on his films before writing and directing her own in the early ’60s. Fellini became more than a mentor. He believed in Wertmüller’s talent and provided the crew for her first film, The Lizards.
“Because I have been able to be myself, I’ve been able to make the kind of films that I did,” Wertmüller said to the Los Angeles Times. “When this could happen, and somebody didn’t want to support one of [my] ideas, I would move on and go to another producer or go find another way to make the film.”
Wertmüller directed a series of notable films in the ‘70s, including Seven Beauties, The Seduction of Mimi, Love and Anarchy, and Swept Away. The latter was remade in 2002 by director Guy Ritchie, who cast Madonna as the starring role.
After a brief stint directing in the U.S., Wertmüller returned to Italy, where she continues to write and direct films. Her career spans more than 50 years. In honor of her Academy Award recognition, Wertmüller’s first film, The Lizards, will be shown for the first time in the U.S. at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.
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