Oscars 2021: Diversity, the big winner
The biggest surprise in an otherwise straightforward show came in the form of the reordering of the Best Picture and Best Actor slots
The 93rd Academy Awards was held on Sunday, April 25, in Los Angeles. Owing to the raging pandemic, the show was a mix of both virtual and in-person presentations.
Chloe Zhao made history as the first woman of colour to be named the Best Director for Nomadland and became only the second woman filmmaker to win the award after Kathryn Bigelow’s win in 2010 for The Hurt Locker. “This is for everyone who has the faith and courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves, and hold on to the goodness in each other,” Zhao said, in her acceptance speech.
Frances McDormand was named the Best Actress for her performance in Nomadland as Fern, a middle-aged woman who adapts to a vagabond lifestyle and sets out on a healing journey. The award marked McDormand’s third win, after Fargo in 1997 and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in 2018. “I have no words. My voice is in my sword. We know the sword is our work and I like work. Thank you for knowing that and thanks for this,” said McDormand, who became the fourth actress to win three Oscars after Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, and Meryl Streep.
Nomadland also won the coveted Best Picture award. A scathing portrayal of the harsh realities caused by an economic slowdown, the film blends the intimacy of a documentary with the panoramic beauty of cinema. The film, with its critical take on a materialistic lifestyle and capitalistic sentiments, was the big winner of the day.
Sound of Metal won its well-deserved Best Sound award for putting its sound design to effectively communicate the plight of a musician who gradually loses his hearing ability. The film was also bestowed with the Best Editing award. Had Riz Ahmed won his acting trophy for Sound of Metal, he would have been ingrained in the history of Oscars as the first Muslim to win Best Actor. Similarly, Chadwick Boseman’s win would have made him the first Black man to posthumously win the top honor in acting. The biggest surprise in an otherwise straightforward show came in the form of the reordering of the Best Picture and Best Actor slots. Announcing the Best Picture last has remained the Oscars’ norm since 1948 with this convention being disrupted only once in 1971, when the Best Picture announcement was followed by a special honorary award for Charlie Chaplin. This year’s order hinted at a celebration of Boseman’s work, with the decision to pick Anthony Hopkins (The Father) for the Best Actor award coming across as an upset. This is Anthony Hopkins’ second Best Actor trophy after his previous win for Silence of the Lambs. At 83, Hopkins is the oldest actor to get an Academy Award.
Hopkins, who couldn’t attend the event in person, posted a video later to thank the Academy. "I did not expect to get this award. I am really grateful to the Academy and I feel very privileged and honoured," he said in the video. Hopkins also paid tribute to Boseman and said that the actor "was taken from us far too early."
Emerald Fennel, whose direction nomination alongside Zhao, marked the first time two female filmmakers were nominated in that category, won the Best Original Screenplay for Promising Young Woman. Fennel became the first woman to bag an award in the screenwriting category since Diablo Cody’s win for Juno in 2008, and is only the fifth woman ever in Oscar history to receive the honor. “This film was made by the most incredible people in the world, who made it in 23 days and brought their complete genius and love and humour to it,” said Fennel in her acceptance speech. Meanwhile, Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller, who adapted the play by the latter into the feature-length script of The Father, were bestowed with the Best Adapted Screenplay award.
Although Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg couldn’t get hold of the Oscar trophy for his first direction nomination, he had enough reasons to smile with his film Another Round, the favourite among foreign films, winning the Best International Feature Film. “We wanted to make a film that celebrates life,” added Vinterberg in his speech.
Soul became the 11th Pixar-produced film to win the Best Animated Feature Film. Moreover, the musical work of Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste on the animated film won them the Best Original Score award. Jon Batiste, who inspired the film’s animation team in creating the look of the film’s protagonist Joe, became the second black musician to win the award after Herbie Hancock won an Oscar for the 1986 film, Round Midnight.
On the other hand, the representation of sensitive subject matters reaped rewards in the short-film categories. If Anything Happens I Love You, which centers on the trauma left behind by the gun violence in a school, bagged the Best Animated Short Film award, while Two Distant Strangers, which adds a sci-fi twist to the distressing topic of police brutality inflicted upon African-Americans, was given the Best Live Action Short Film award.
Also, the Best Supporting Actress award was given to Youn Yuh-Jung for her tender performance as the warm grandmother in the profound family drama, Minari, making her the first Korean to win an acting award. “I’ve had a long career that has been built step by step. Nothing happened bam, like this, and this award, I am so very happy to get,” she said.
Daniel Kaluuya, who brought American activist and revolutionary socialist Fred Hampton to life in Judas and the Black Messiah, took home the Best Supporting Actor trophy. “Celebrate life, man. We are breathing, we are walking, it's incredible," said Kaluuya in his acceptance speech. Furthermore, ‘Fight for You’ by D'Mile and HER and Tiara Thomas from Judas and the Black Messiah won the Best Original Song.
Along similar lines, actor-filmmaker Tyler Perry was honoured with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award for "his generosity toward those often overlooked and his steadfast commitment to social justice
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which follows Ma Rainey, the influential blues singer, over the course of a turbulent song recording session, took home two awards -- Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Costume Design. 89-year-old Ann Rothe, who won received the Best Costume Design award, became the oldest woman to win ever an Oscar. In a similar vein, Mank received two awards -- Best Cinematography and Best Production Design -- for its immaculate recreation of the 1930s Hollywood. Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi extravaganza, Tenet, walked away with Best Visual Effects.
Also, My Octopus Teacher, which documents the relationship between its filmmaker Craig Foster and an octopus, was declared the Best Documentary Feature. Interestingly, Indian conservationist, documentary, and Foster’s spouse, Swati Thiyagarajan, served as a produced manager on the documentary. Colette, centered on the titular former French resistance member who travels to Germany for the first time in 74 years, received the Best Documentary Short award.
In an award season dominated by streaming giants with uncertainty wafting over the future of theatres, Frances McDormand urged people to watch films on a big screen. “Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible, and one day very, very soon take everyone you know into a theater, shoulder to shoulder, in that dark space and watch every film that’s represented here tonight,” she said.
Best Original Score: Soul
Best Original Song: Fight For You, Judas And The Black Messiah
Best Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher
Best Documentary Short: Colette
Best Live Action Short: Two Distant Strangers
Best Animated Short: If Anything Happens I Love You
Best Sound: Sound Of Metal
Best Production Design: Mank
Best Cinematography: Mank
Best Makeup And Hair: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Best Film Editing: Sound Of Metal
Best Visual Effects: Tenet
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award: Tyler Perry