Oscars 2021: Hollywood's Redemption Arc

Around 6 years ago, the infamous #OscarsSoWhite hashtag entered the public sphere’s vocabulary and has remained on what seems to be an annual rotation since. Obviously a long-standing historical issue, The Academy Awards show has seemingly not caught up with the contemporary multiracial and diverse society that surrounds it. Now becoming more famous for its lack of diversity than its intentions of being the highest accolade one could receive as a member of the film industry has led to its subsequent public identity crisis. 

After facing multiple boycotts and active smear campaigns on social media, The Academy was tasked with creating major improvements regarding their representations of women and/or people of color among its cinematic accolades. In announcing a new set of criteria applicable to a film’s eligibility in getting considered for nomination, The Academy seemed to be heading in the right direction to recognize and reward the cinematic contributions of minorities who had been previously snubbed before. But did these efforts remain true? It appears so. 

With frontrunning films such as Judas and the Black Messiah, Minari, Nomadland and Sound of Metal forming part of the ensemble of Best Picture nominees, this year’s award season has certainly proven itself to be a gamechanger for films made by and starring people of color. 

Starting with newcomer Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah, this historical drama explores the intricacies of the Black Panther Party and the death of their former chairman Fred Hampton. Not only is this film monumental in its content, but also in its plethora of accolades. Judas and the Black Messiah is the first film with an all-black production team nominated for Best Picture. 

Along with this, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland which chronicles the tale of a woman (played by Frances McDormand) in her 60’s who follows a nomadic lifestyle after the Great Recession seems to be tied with Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman which skillfully shows Carey Mulligan’s acting chops as a thrilling femme fatale. These two films mark the third time in history where two films directed by women were simultaneously nominated in the Best Picture category as well as the very first time where two female directors were both nominated for Best Director. 

While the behind-the-scenes department of filmmaking is experiencing many firsts, we have also been presented with the most diverse acting line-up in history. Out of the 20 actors and actresses nominated, 9 are people of color. This beats the previous record of 7 which occurred in 2006.

Additionally, this category is filled with many first-timers and surprises. Riz Ahmed, who stars as the lead in Sound of Metal, is the very first Muslim actor to be nominated in the Best Lead Actor category while Minari’s Steven Yeun is the first Asian-American to be nominated in the same category.

Even bigger news is that Viola Davis (who stars as Ma Rainey in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) has proven herself once again as she becomes the most nominated black woman in the history of The Oscar’s as of this year. This is also the second time in history that we have seen two black women nominated in the same category as Davis ties with newcomer Andra Day from The United States Vs. Billie Holiday.

One thing that cinema has done in 2021 is that it has proven that where times may be grim (due to the global pandemic), diversity shines for the first time in a long while. All efforts in publicly calling out The Academy on its bigotry have allowed current filmmakers and film lovers who form part of minority groups to get The Oscars that we didn’t only want, but The Oscars we deserve. Hopefully, this step in the right direction does not occur in isolation but forms one of many steps in showing the diversity of the world reflected within the film industry as we tune in for The 93rd installment of The Academy Awards on 26 April.