After years — really decades — of a woeful lack of diversity, The Academy Awards appear to finally be making headway, welcoming an inclusive roster of talent to this year’s pool of nominees.
Variety’s Adam B. Vary praised the inclusiveness of categories from the top, like Best Picture, all the way down to makeup and hair, all of which highlighted diverse talent. He dubbed the acting categories in particular, “the most diverse slate of nominees ever.”
Daniel Arkin of NBC News agreed, saying “the performers up for acting honors are notably diverse this year — a stark contrast to five years ago when an all-white slate of nominees helped fuel the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. Nine of the 20 acting nominees are people of color,” which included Andra Day for The People vs. Billie Holiday, Chadwick Boseman, posthumously recognized for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Steven Yeun for Minari, who becomes the first Asian American nominated for Best Actor.
Among the other notable highlights of the 2021 Oscar nominations announced on March 15th:
A highly varied selection of talent for the Best Director category. Although many hoped Regina King would be nominated for her directorial debut in One Night in Miami, the Academy for Motion Pictures and Sciences (AMPAS) did nominate two other female directors: Nomadland‘s Chloé Zhao and Promising Young Woman‘s Emerald Fennell. Joey Nolfi of Entertainment Weekly reported that “For the first time in its 93-year existence, the Academy has nominated two women for Best Director in one year … becoming the sixth and seventh women to ever appear in the category.”
“While both women’s nominations are significant, the Beijing-born Zhao’s nomination breaks new ground for the Oscars on its own, as she is now the first woman of color to be nominated for Best Director,” Nolfi said.
Prior to today’s announcement, just five women had been nominated for directing: Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties in 1976; Jane Campion in 1994 for The Piano; Sofia Coppola in 2004 for Lost in Translation; Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker; and Greta Gerwig in 2018 for Lady Bird.
The Best Director category also included Lee Isaac Chung for his work in the coming-of-age film Minari. Chung and touted frontrunner Zhao join Parasite’s Bong Joon-Ho (who won the Best Director award in 2020) and Ang Lee (who won in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain and in 2012 for Life of Pi) as some of the few Asian directors to ever be nominated for the prize. This year’s Academy Awards also marks the first time two directors of Asian descent were nominated for Best Director in the same year.
Big love for Minari. In addition to the Best Director for Chung and the historic nomination for Yeun, Minari also received nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actress for Youn Yuh-jung. The 73-year-old actress is relatively unknown in the States, but her career in South Korea spans over half a century.
The Los Angeles Times’ Tracy Brown wrote, “Despite Parasite’s historic wins last year, the Oscars, like much of Hollywood, has an abysmal record when it comes to recognizing Asian and Asian American talent. The only other actors of Asian descent previously recognized in the lead actor category are Yul Brynner (The King and I) and Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, House of Sand and Fog).
Viola Davis becomes the most-nominated Black actress of all time. The acclaimed Oscar-winner received her fourth nomination for her role as blues legend Ma Rainey in George C. Wolfe’s adaptation of August Wilson’s play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Davis was previously nominated for Doubt, The Help, and the 2016 film adaptation of Fences (another work by Wilson) for which she won her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Davis had previously been tied with her longtime friend Octavia Spencer, who has three nominations over the course of her career, including her win for Best Supporting Actress in 2011 for The Help.
Judas and the Black Messiah becomes the first Best Picture nominee with all Black producers according to Derek Lawrence of Entertainment Weekly. The story of the charismatic Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was produced by Shaka King (who also directed the film) along with Charles D. King and Ryan Coogler. The film was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song and Best Supporting Actor for co-stars Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield.
Sound of Metal’s Riz Ahmed becomes the first Muslim and Pakistani actor to be nominated for Best Actor. The British actor plays a punk drummer and recovering addict who loses his hearing and gains acceptance through his gradual entrance into the deaf community. To master the role, Ahmed spent months learning American Sign Language. Along with Yeun, this year’s Academy Awards marks the first time two actors of Asian heritage were nominated for Best Actor in the same year.
Veteran actor Anthony Hopkins also made history with his Best Actor nomination playing a man dealing with the effects of oncoming dementia in The Father. Although he’s no stranger to the Oscar stage with 5 previous nominations under his belt and one win for The Silence of the Lambs, in a business obsessed with youth and upcoming new talent, the 83-year-old actor becomes the oldest Best Actor nominee ever in Oscar history. The previous record belonged to Richard Farnsworth who was nominated for The Straight Story at the age of 79 in 2000.