Oscars 2021: The Show Went On
By Amit Jagwani |
Last year was a challenging and unique one for the film industry. Viewers watched blockbusters from the comfort of their couches, while awaiting the release of more flicks in this new format. Yet no change in the movie landscape could foil the 93rd annual Academy Awards. On April 25, some of Hollywood’s biggest stars gathered at LA’s Union Station, while still others participated remotely from studios around the world. The production was tricky, with logistics described by producer and Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh as “mind-numbing.” Still, the show went on. Notable themes, that are hopefully a bellwether of what lies ahead, include significant strides made in diversity and an increase in the number of women – both nominees and winners.
An Unconventional Oscars for an Unconventional Year
Viewers tuned in this year to watch stars dressed to the nines and a show that alternated between silly and serious moments. The smaller, but beautiful, venue captured somber moments well. And while the grandeur we’ve come to expect from this elite event was harder to pull off, the producers achieved an elegant intimacy that made is especially memorable.
Under Soderbergh’s direction, the production took some risks, and many of them paid off. Case in point: live DJing from Questlove, and a moving opening monologue for Regina King who, shockingly, did not receive a Best Director nomination for One Night in Miami. The combined effects of intimate venue, live DJ and lack of a host (for the third year running) lent the production a relaxed, casual appeal. Winners got more leeway when it came to acceptance speeches, allowing for real, unscripted moments. Best Supporting Actor winner Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah) embarrassed his mom with a hilarious rambling monologue, while Best Supporting Actress Youn Yuh-jung (Minari) delivered a heartfelt acknowledgement about hard work and luck.
Some awkward moments ensued. It’s rumored that producers switched the presentation order of Best Picture and Best Actor awards, presuming that the late Chadwick Boseman would win posthumously in the latter category. That would have been a nice way for the show to conclude. But when Anthony Hopkins became the oldest person ever to win Best Actor for his role in The Father, presenter Joaquin Phoenix reluctantly informed the world that Hopkins wasn’t on-site to accept his award. Then the ceremony ended, rather unceremoniously.
A notable ratings dip from last year’s Oscars can’t be overlooked. Fewer than 10 million viewers tuned in, perhaps due to the lack of a live audience, but the low rating was consistent with what awards shows have experienced throughout the course of the pandemic. Still, the event kept its title as the largest awards show of the season and ABC sold out its entire advertising inventory, with Google, GM and Verizon spending an estimated $2 million for each of their 30-second ads.
Once the nominations were announced, predictions for an explosion in diversity among winners were plentiful. And they were on target: the Academy nominated a record 70 women for a total of 76 Oscar nominations. Women made history by taking home 17 awards. Despite only being nominated at a rate of about 23 percent across all categories, women claimed 36 percent of the statuettes this year.
Notable was the success of Nomadland, which followed its Best Drama win at the Golden Globes to Best Picture success at the Oscars, while also netting Chloe Zhao the award for Best Director. She’s only the second woman to hold that distinction, following Kathryn Bigelow’s 2010 win for The Hurt Locker. Three of Nomadland’s five producers are women, including star Frances McDormand, who also took home Best Actress, and director Zhao. Emerald Fennell won Best Original Screenplay this year, the first woman to win in that category since Diablo Cody for 2007’s Juno. In addition, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson broke ground as the first Black women to win for best makeup and hairstyling, for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
The diversity on display wasn’t just about women. Nine of the 20 Best Actor and Actress nominees were actors of color, while the Best Actor category held a majority of nonwhite nominees—three of the five. Other wins for actors of color included Daniel Kaluuya for Best Supporting Actor in Judas and the Black Messiah and Youn Yuh-jung for Best Supporting Actress in Minari. This year’s Oscars also embraced the deaf community. Sound of Metal, a film about a drummer who loses his hearing, made waves, winning Best Sound and Best Film Editing alongside nominations for Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci in Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor roles, respectively. Deaf actress Marlee Matlin was a featured presenter, and a Google spot about deaf grandparents stole the ad show. While improvements must still be made after 2015’s #OscarsSoWhite, 2021 proves that progress is underway.
There’s no perfect Oscars for an imperfect year in film, and so the show was strange yet affirming. As GQ described it, the ceremony’s “vaguely unbuttoned quality” brought the mystique and magic of Hollywood, for once, down to earth. Like all of us, the film industry is doing its best. And despite some hiccups, perhaps the most important takeaway is that diverse teams and individuals are being recognized, paving the way for more of those stories and voices to be heard in the future.