2021 Oscar Nominations

David Fincher’s Mank (2020)

The list of Oscar nominations announced yesterday morning is peppered with victories for women and people of color. Before this year, only five women had been nominated for best director in the ninety-three-year history of the Academy Awards, but this time around, there are two. Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) enter the race alongside Lee Isaac Chung (Minari), David Fincher (Mank), and Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round). Among the twenty acting nominees, the Guardian’s Catherine Shoard counts nine people of color, including Chadwick Boseman, who passed away last August, three months before the release of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which features his final performance as trumpeter Levee Green.

As Sarah Bahr points out in the New York Times, it’s been “nearly twenty years since a man of Asian heritage notched a best actor nomination,” and now for the first time, there are two at once with Steven Yeun (Minari), who was born in South Korea and grew up in the U.S., and Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), born in London to a British Pakistani family. For the first time since 1973, notes Zach Sharf at IndieWire, when both Diana Ross (Lady Sings the Blues) and the late Cicely Tyson (Sounder) were nominated, two Black women are up for best actress, Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Andra Day (The People vs. Billie Holiday). Calls for greater diversity in the Academy’s membership that began in earnest in 2015 with the #OscarsSoWhite campaign have finally begun to bear fruit.

Of the eight films up for best picture, Mank, the story behind the screenplay for Citizen Kane, leads with ten nominations, including acting nods for Gary Oldman, who plays Herman J. Mankiewicz, and Amanda Seyfried, who portrays his only true friend, Marion Davies. A cluster of six films follow with six nominations each: The Father, directed by French novelist and playwright Florian Zeller and starring Anthony Hopkins (nominated) as an octogenarian struggling with dementia; Judas and the Black Messiah, the second feature from Shaka King with Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield (both nominated for best supporting actor) as, respectively, Black Panther activist Fred Hampton and FBI informant William O’Neal; Minari, a portrait of a South Korean immigrant family starting a new life as farmers in rural Arkansas; Nomadland, with Frances McDormand (nominated) as a houseless woman traveling the American west; Sound of Metal, Darius Marder’s first fictional feature, starring Riz Ahmed as a drummer losing his hearing; and The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin’s star-studded reenactment of the 1968 case brought against the Chicago Seven. Promising Young Woman, with Carey Mulligan (nominated) as a woman seeking revenge for the rape of her best friend, has scored five nominations.

Collective, Alexander Nanau’s investigation into rampant fraud and corruption in the Romanian health care system, is up for both best documentary and international feature awards. The four other documentary nominees are James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham’s Crip Camp, Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent, Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed’s My Octopus Teacher, and Garrett Bradley’s Time. The other contenders for best international feature are Another Round, representing Denmark; Derek Tsang’s Better Days (Hong Kong); Kaouther Ben Hania’s The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia); and Jasmila Žbanić’s Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Sorting through the snubs and surprises are Richard Brody (New Yorker), Kyle Buchanan (NYT), Andrew R. Chow and Eliana Dockterman (Time), A. A. Dowd (A.V. Club), Nate Jones (Vulture), Dominic Patten (Deadline), and Jenelle Riley and Ramin Setoodeh (Variety).

Topping everyone’s list of snubs is Da 5 Bloods, which has received just one nomination—for Terence Blanchard’s original score—and nothing for Spike Lee’s direction or Delroy Lindo’s soul-shaking performance. The Academy is nevertheless coming in for praise for nudging its way toward more inclusivity, which at the very least is more than can be said for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The HFPA has been struggling to restore credibility to its Golden Globe awards since a flurry of unflattering media reports appearing in the run-up to last month’s ceremony focused not only on its members’ eagerness to accept lush favors from studios and publicists but also on the fact that none of those eighty-seven members is Black. A full week after the Globes ceremony, the HFPA announced its commitment to “transformational change,” greater transparency, and a more diverse membership.

The activists at Time’s Up were quick to respond. “On behalf of the many artists who look to us to hold the HFPA’s feet to the fire on the racism, disrespect, misogyny, and alleged corrupt financial dealings of the Golden Globes,” they tweeted, “we need to see specific details, timetables for change, and firm commitments. The right words are not enough.” The Los Angeles TimesGlenn Whipp, though, has run out of patience. He’s calling on NBC, which broadcasts the awards, to “do the right thing, put us all out of our misery, and pull the plug on the Golden Globes.”

By contrast, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts finally took action last year after running up against industry-wide criticism directed at a roster of nominees that included zero people of color in the major acting categories and—for the seventh year running—zero women up for best director. As Rory Horne reports for Huck, the Academy introduced 120 changes to its nominating process, focusing in particular on a shift away from membership-wide votes on each category to “juries of up to twelve industry experts representing a range of backgrounds, experiences, and ages.” This year’s round of nominations has been celebrated across the board as people of color make up the majority in all acting categories and four of the six nominees for best director are women. Winners will be announced on April 10 and 11, two weeks before the Oscars are presented on April 25.

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