The first woman to win the Best Adapted Screenplay race was Frances Marion, a writer, director, and journalist with a prolific filmography that bridged the gap between silent and sound films. Marion won the top writing prize (it was then just called Best Writing) in 1931, at the third annual Oscars, for the MGM drama “The Big House.” Just three years later, Sarah Y. Mason took home the award for co-writing “Little Women,” and in 1943, Claudine West earned the trophy for co-writing “Mrs. Miniver.”
But despite its auspicious start, the Best Adapted Screenplay category was by no means a bastion of gender equity in Hollywood. After West, no woman took home the prize for over 40 years. During that time, the New Hollywood era and the rise of auteur theory made the art of writing and directing films largely synonymous with a sort of white male “genius.” The dry spell was finally broken by Jewish writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who won twice for her takes on “A Room With A View” and “Howards End.” In the ensuing decades, Emma Thompson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Diana Ossana, and Siân Heder would represent women screenwriters on the Oscar stage. Between Ossana, who won for the “Brokeback Mountain” script she penned with Larry McMurtry, and Heder, who won for “CODA,” stretches a gap of 16 years.