Culture Trips

Oscars 2021: two female directors and nine actors of colour nominated in historic year | Film

Two female directors – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – are in the running for the best director prize at this year’s Oscars; the first time more than one woman has been in contention for the award.

Only five women have ever been in the running for the award; only one – Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010 – has won.

British film-maker Fennell – perhaps best known for her acting work, playing Camilla Parker Bowles on Netflix’s The Crown – is nominated for her first ever feature, the rape revenge comedy Promising Young Woman. It is also up for best film, best original screenplay and best leading actress, for Carey Mulligan.

Zhao, meanwhile, goes into the race for both director and picture the frontrunner, with Nomadland – an elegiac drama about the lives on the road of disenfranchised older Americans starring Frances McDormand – victorious in a sweep of preceding awards ceremonies.

Also up for best director are Thomas Vinterberg (for Another Round), David Fincher (for Mank) and Lee Isaac Chung (for Minari).

Mank, a black-and-white look at the backstage dramas around the writing of Citizen Kane, starring Gary Oldman as the screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz, leads the scoreboard of nominations this year by some distance.

It is nominated for best film, best director, original screenplay, leading actor and supporting actress (for Amanda Seyfried), costume design, production design, score, cinematography and make-up.





Oldman and Fincher on the set of Mank.



Oldman and Fincher on the set of Mank. Photograph: Miles Crist/AP

Yet the film – one of a substantial number of nominees distributed by Netflix – is also one of the few significant players which have not advanced the Academy’s efforts to further inclusivity over the past year.

Nine of the acting nominees are people of colour, compared to one (Harriet’s Cynthia Erivo) in 2020. Riz Ahmed (for The Sound of Metal), Steven Yeun (Minari) and Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) join Oldman and Anthony Hopkins (for The Father) in the best actor race. This is the first year Asian actors have featured in the leading man category.

Boseman, who died from cancer aged 43 last August, is one of only seven actors who have ever earned Academy Award nominations after their deaths. Heath Ledger and Peter Finch are the only actors to have won posthumous Oscars.

Boseman’s Ma Rainey co-star Viola Davis and Andra Day (for The United States V Billie Holiday) will compete against Vanessa Kirby (for Pieces of a Woman), Mulligan and McDormand for best actress. But there was no space for Rosamund Pike, who took the best actress in a comedy or musical prize at the Golden Globes.

Newcomer Maria Bakalova is in the running for best supporting actress for her role in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, while the script is up for best adapted screenplay.

Sacha Baron Cohen missed out on a leading actor nod for that film, but did pick up a supporting actor nomination for his role as Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Aaron Sorkin’s courtroom thriller about countercultural protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention took six nominations on Monday, as did The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Minari, Nomadland and Sound of Metal.

Collective, Another Round and Quo Vadis Aida? lead the field in the best international film category; the former – about astonishing medical corruption in Romania – is also up for best documentary, along with Crip Camp, The Mole Agent, My Octopus Teacher and Time.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon was a surprise nominee in the best animated film category; it competes against frontrunner Soul.

The Guardian short film Colette, about a 90-year-old veteran of the French Resistance, is up for best short documentary.

Notable snubs include The Mauritanian, Kevin Macdonald’s legal drama about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, falsely imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, which won best supporting actress for Jodie Foster at the Golden Globes. That film was not nominated in any category.

Some have also highlighted a curious discrepancy in the lack of recognition afforded to black directors, despite their films being up for best film and multiple acting awards.

Neither Shaka King (for Judas and the Black Messiah), Regina King (One Night in Miami), George C Wolfe (Ma Rainey) or Spike Lee (Da 5 Bloods) were nominated. The omission of Delroy Lindo, for the latter film, from the leading actor category was also perceived to be an oversight.

Last year’s Oscars saw Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite take home best picture, as well as best director, original screenplay and international feature film. Joaquin Phoenix won best actor for Joker and Renée Zellweger best actress for Judy while Laura Dern and Brad Pitt took supporting acting prizes for Marriage Story and Once Upon a Time in America.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced in June that it was delaying all Oscar events in the light of the coronavirus pandemic. Eligibility for the prizes has been radically relaxed this year.

David Rubin, the current Academy president, revealed that this year’s ceremony will take place on 25 April in Los Angeles’s Union Station, as well as in the Dolby Theatre. As with last year’s Oscars, there will be no single host but a rota of presenters.

This announcement follows Sunday night’s well-received Grammy awards, which unfolded in a relatively traditional fashion with a socially distanced ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Centre.

The Globes hybrid event, by contrast, saw co-hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey on opposite sides of the US and most nominees Zooming in from home. It was beset by technical difficulties, with multiple time-lags and misunderstandings and some winners cut-off mid-speech.

That event saw Nomadland take best drama and Zhao become the first Asian woman to win best director, as well as only the second ever female to do so (following Barbra Streisand in 1983 for Yentl).

Nomadland was also, alongside British drama Rocks, the scorecard winner at last week’s Bafta nominations, the first since a raft of radical changes to the voting process to further inclusivity.

For those awards, Nomadland has seven nominations, and Zhao is one of four women in the running for best director. Sixteen of the acting nominees at this year’s Baftas are people of colour (exactly two-thirds of the total). In 2020 there were none.

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