Oscar Nominations 2021: Finally, some racial and gender representation

We’re all in the mood for good news these days and the announcement of the 2021 Oscar nominations by Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas was a strong way to start the week. Considering the Academy has been plagued by years of criticism for being too white, the 2021 nominations are a pleasant if not overdue surprise. When it comes to this year’s nominations, it’s the larger-than-usual number of women and people of colour that has everyone talking.

While Netflix’s “Mank”, directed by David Fincher, is making headlines for earning the most nominations overall, perhaps more newsworthy is that for the first time, more than one woman was shortlisted for the Best Director prize with Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland” and Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman”. With that, Lee Isaac Chung, writer-director of “Minari”, is nominated in the same category, making this the first time two Asian directors vie for the Best Director title in the same year. Zhao is also up for nominations in film editing and adapted screenplay, totaling four nominations and the most a woman has ever received in one year.

In the acting nods, actors of colour make up the majority in both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories. With nine actors of colour earning nominations, it’s a huge contrast to last year when just one Black actor was nominated. Of the nine, six Black actors and actresses are nominated: Daniel Kaluuya, Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Andra Day, Leslie Odom Jr, and Lakeith Stanfield all recognised for their talents. With her nomination for best actress in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, this is also the year Davis became the most-nominated Black actress ever with four nominations.

Added to this, Riz Ahmed is the first Muslim actor, and possibly first Pakistani actor, nominated in the category of Best Actor for “The Sound of Metal”, and Steven Yeun is the first Asian American nominee for “Minari”. Prior to this year, Mahershala Ali was the only Muslim actor to take home a statue for Supporting Actor in “Moonlight” (2016) and “Green Book” (2018). Since then, the last Muslim actor nominated was Omar Sharif in 1962 for “Lawrence of Arabia”. Both “The Sound of Metal” and “Minari” are also nominated for Best Picture. 


These acting nominations are particularly significant after seeing notable films with mainly Asian casts, such “Parasite”, “The Life of Pi”, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”, earn multiple Oscar nominations with no nominations for acting. For example, last year’s “Parasite” racked up six nominations for directing, screenplay, design and editing but nothing in the acting category. This year Yeun and co-star Youn Yuh-jung, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress, make history being the first actors born in Korea to earn Oscar recognition.

“Minari” producer Christina Oh is also the first Asian American woman to be nominated for Best Picture, joined by the producers of “Judas and the Black Messiah” — Charles D. King, Ryan Coogler and Shaka King — who comprise the first and only all-Black team of nominated producers. 

Despite these strides, the 93-year old awards show has a ways to go when it comes to gender and racial parity. Critics called out the awards for nominating both Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield for the Best Supporting Actor category, a confusing move which inevitably shortchanges each actor’s contributions to the film since one of them certainly played the lead. 

On a similar note, earlier this year in an interview with Variety, actress Viola Davis took a moment to point out that her being the most nominated Black actress in history is “a testament to the sheer lack of material there has been out there for artists of colour.” Others also bemoaned the lack of Latino representation in this year’s nominations. 

Considering it took until 2020 for the Academy to launch its Academy Aperture 2025, an initiative outlining specific goals and standards for greater diversity and inclusion, it will be a long while before the Academy, or Hollywood, for that matter, can shake its image of being an unprogressive, creaky institution. Until then, it’ll need to make up for lost time.

The 93rd Oscars will air live on ABC at 8:00 am HKT on Monday, April 26. Learn more at oscars.org

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