‘And the Oscar goes to — wait — what?!?‘

The 93rd Academy Awards telecast Sunday, April 25, included some historic firsts in terms of diversity for the awards ceremony honoring the best in motion pictures, including best actor in a supporting role, best actress in a supporting role, best actor, best actress, best original screenplay, best director and best picture.

Producers Frances McDormand, left, and Chloe Zhao, winners of the award for best picture for "Nomadland," pose in the press room at the Oscars in Los Angeles Sunday, April 25, 2021. McDormand also won Best Actress for the film and Zhao won Best Director, making her the first Asian woman and only the second woman to take home the trophy. Chris Pizzello / Pool via REUTERS

Sunday’s telecast of the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony promised a few things if history was any indication: long-winded acceptance speeches by predominantly white Oscar winners.

That prediction was only half right. The annual awards given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences included some historic firsts in terms of diversity in an unconventional year.

“Nomadland" stars Frances McDormand as a transient widow living out of her van. The new movie was released last month by Searchlight Pictures. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

The film industry’s top honors for best picture and best director went to “Nomadland” and Chloé Zhao, respectively, who also wrote the screenplay for “Nomadland.”


Zhao directed “Nomadland,” becoming the first woman of color, the first Chinese woman and the second woman ever to win for directing. (The first woman to win for directing in the nearly century-old history of the Oscars was Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for “The Hurt Locker.”)

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“Nomadland,” a R-rated film, centers on the journey of one woman played by Frances McDormand (who so memorably played the very pregnant Marge Gunderson in “Fargo”).

The feature film adaptation of “Nomadland” is based on the 2017 nonfiction book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” by Jessica Bruder, a journalist. Her book focused on older Americans during the Great Recession who adopted a transient lifestyle.


No one could be more thrilled than me that Zhao — another Asian — won an Oscar, arguably the most famous and prestigious award in the entertainment industry, but her third feature film was shot in a seemingly lackadaisical way as to lack focus, narrative and excitement.

The cinematic rumination of what it means to live life on the road pale in comparison to other more noteworthy Oscar-contenders, including “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which netted Daniel Kaluuya an Academy Award for best actor in a supporting role.

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“Judas and the Black Messiah” has been named one of the best films of the year by many movie critics and arguably for good reason.

Kaluuya, an English actor, and Lakeith Stanfield, an American actor, bring to life the historical biographical drama about the Black Panther Party, a political organization in the 1960s.



What it took behind the scenes to bring to life the poignant and the sadly still ever-so-relevant tale of racial injustice in America I can only imagine, but it’s a shame it did not win in the best picture or best director category, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement dominating headlines.

Kaluuya plays Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, who is betrayed by another party member, William O'Neal, who is an FBI informant played by Stanfield.

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Anthony Hopkins became the oldest actor at 83 to ever win an Oscar in a shocking upset over the late Chadwick Boseman, who was nominated for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Hopkins played the titular character in “The Father,” a dementia-based drama starring the Welsh actor.

Most remember Hopkins from his Oscar-winning role as the cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” which co-starred Jodie Foster. That 1991 film won her the award — and won for best director, best picture and best adapted screenplay.

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For my money in the best actress category, British actress Carey Mulligan should have won but faced stiff competition from critics’ favorite “Nomadland,” which netted actress McDormand her third Academy Award. McDormand is the wife of filmmaker and Minnesota native Joel Coen.

Mulligan gave a riveting performance in the timely #MeToo drama “Promising Young Woman,” a revenge thriller about criminal sexual assault. Mulligan plays Cassie Thomas, a 30-year-old who lives with her parents and works a dead-end job after dropping out of medical school.



Thomas spends her nights frequenting clubs and bars, on the prowl for young men eager and willing to take advantage of her seemingly intoxicated state. She then confronts her would-be rapists about to commit sexual assault and battery and turns the tables on her male predators.

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My consolation prize is that the R-rated film written, produced and directed by Emerald Fennell in her feature directorial debut, and produced by actress Margot Robbie, received the Academy Award for best original screenplay. Fennell was also nominated for best director.

In fact, it was the first time in the history of the Academy Awards that two women — Fennell for “Promising Young Woman” and Zhao for “Nomadland” — were nominated for best director. But the night of firsts included more pleasant surprises.


Actress Yuh-Jung Youn made Oscar history as the first South Korean to win for her scene-stealing role in the immigrant family tale “Minari.” And the 73-year-old was only the second Asian woman to win best actress in a supporting role.

Youn’s castmate Steven Yeun was the first Asian American — and Riz Ahmed of “Sound of Metal” was the first Muslim — to be nominated for best actor. They lost to Hopkins, who was predicted to lose to Boseman, who starred in Marvel’s “Black Panther,” a 2018 superhero film.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .


I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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