The 93rd Academy Awards | A Show of Firsts

93rd Academy Awards

What is the responsibility of an awards show, especially one as important as the Oscars, after a year like 2020?
In fact, what is the responsibility of the film industry as a whole? Film has been, practically since its inception, one of the most popular means of escapism during hard times. And yet it has also been one of the most effective and far-reaching means of addressing and portraying those same hard times. The 93rd Academy Awards, hosted in Los Angeles at both Union Station and the Dolby Theater on April 25, 2021, reflected this duality, for better or for worse.

The Union Station. One of the 93rd Academy Awards locations

A sober approach

“It has been quite a year. And we are still smack dab in the middle of it.” 

This was Regina King’s first line as she introduced the ceremony, fresh from her directorial debut with One Night in Miami. She continued on, “If things had gone differently this past week in Minneapolis, I might have traded in my heels for marching boots,” referencing the conviction of Derek Chauvin on the George Floyd trial. So it became clear: the evening would not shrink from the realities of the moment, but rather address them head-on. It was most definitely the correct choice- to do any less would have felt tone-deaf. The subtraction of comedic hosts and musical intermissions further confirmed this sober approach. On the other hand, the warm golds of the train station and royal blue color scheme balanced the event with intimacy and borderline nostalgic quality that lent it a new, more mature personality than the classic showy reds and grandiose size of the Dolby Theater. 

From comedy to storytelling

With no comedic relief, the approach to award announcements as well as speeches turned to storytelling. Announcements were built up with anecdotes from the nominees about how they got into the business- with perhaps the best of these being Bong Joon Ho’s question to directors: what is directing?

The first big win of the night went to Emerald Fennell, taking the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for her black comedy Promising Young Woman, starring Carey Mulligan. She was followed up by Thomas Vinterberg, winning Best International Feature Film for his ode to day drinking Another Round.

Another Round - Mads Mikkelsen chugging a bottle of champagne in Thomas Vinterberg's Another Round
Image courtesy of Henrik Ohsten via Mongrel Media

From there, the night grew into a satisfying series of firsts. Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first black women to take home the Best Makeup and Hairstyling award for their work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – and Mia Neal’s speech addressed this, overcome by the history they were making on that stage. “And I also stand here, as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling, with so much excitement for the future, because I can picture black trans women standing up here, and Asian sisters, and our Latina sisters, and Indigenous women, and I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking, it will just be normal.”

The new normal

That new normal began to take shape with more winners’ announcements. Yuh-Jung Youn from Minari became the first Korean actor to win an Oscar (a happy continuation of Bong Joon-Ho’s representation of South Korea a year prior with Parasite).

With a bold change from tradition, showrunner Steven Soderbergh shifted the awards for best actress and actor after best picture, because almost everybody was expecting an emotional tribute to the last performance of Chadwick Boseman with a posthumous Oscar, but instead, Anthony Hopkins won his second statuette and became the oldest actor ever to win the title of Best Actor for his unprecedented performance of an old man struggling with dementia in The Father, the cinematic debut by French prodigy-playwright Florian Zeller.

In the year 2021, where movies like Dune, West Side Story, or The French Dispatch were expected to compete for Best Picture but their release was delayed due to the Pandemic, Nomadland won this award. And its director Chloe Zhao made history as the first woman of color to claim Best Director (and only second woman ever, after Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker). Her speech, navigating the tricky waters of contemporary America-China relations, included a Confucian poem with the simple line, “People at birth are inherently good.”

Two of the most memorable moments of the night came in the form of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, which went to the Motion Picture and Television Fund and to Tyler Perry. It’s easy to be cynical about Hollywood: superficial and detached from reality at best, home to scandal and excess at its worst. But the Jean Hersholt award reminded audiences that Hollywood and film is an industry like any other, with an incredibly vast, sprawling network of workers and employees to support. Moreover, hearing stories about how it has persevered through the darkest months of the pandemic gave the Oscars an overarching, wider perspective. Tyler Perry delivered one of the most moving, expertly crafted speeches of the night, acknowledging his beginnings, the limitations of his own perspective, and a recognition of ongoing struggles:

What is ahead

The 93rd Academy Awards were unlike any other Academy Awards before them, and hopefully, unlike any to follow, defined by actualities of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the remnants of #OscarsSoWhite, and the recent wave of anti-Asian sentiment in the United States. While the superficial excitement of the comedic hosts and music performances was absent, a deeper current of excitement ran through: the excitement of turning a corner, of finally seeing the representation that has been missing so long, of a real connection between the winning films and the largest problems of today. It remains to be seen what sticks and what is simply a product of the circumstances. Then again, if this is the new normal, there are aspects of it that are easy to be optimistic about.

93rd Academy Awards
Image courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

On Hypercritic collection, you can find the following 93rd Academy Awards winners or nominees:

Nomadland

Frances McDormand in the film NOMADLAND.

Best Picture – winner
Best Direction – winner
Best Actress – winner

Best Cinematography – nominee
Best Film Editing – nominee
Best Adapted Screenplay – nominee

Another Round

Another Round - Mads Mikkelsen chugging a bottle of champagne in Thomas Vinterberg's Another Round

Best International Feature Film – winner
Best Director – nominee

Mank

Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz in Mank

Best Production Design – winner
Best Cinematography – winner

Best Picture – nominee
Best Director – nominee
Best Actor – nominee
Best Supporting Actress – nominee
Best Original Score – nominee
Best Sound – nominee
Best Makeup and Hairstyling – nominee
Best Costume Design – nominee

Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal | A quest for stillness - A frame from the movie

Best Film Editing – winner
Best Sound – winner

Best Original Screenplay – nominee
Best Supporting Actor – nominee
Best Actor – nominee
Best Picture – nominee

Ma Reiner’s Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom - Still from Ma Rainey's Black Bottom featuring Viola Davis as Ma Rainey

Best Makeup and Hairstyling – winner
Best Costume Design – winner

Best Actor – nominee
Best Actress – nominee
Best Production Design – nominee

The Trial of Chicago 7

A production still from The Trial of the Chicago 7 featuring the defendants in the courtroom

Best Picture – nominee
Best Supporting Actor – nominee
Best Original Screenplay – nominee
Best Original Song – nominee
Best Cinematography – nominee
Best Film Editing – nominee

More