• Winners Youn Yuh-jung, Daniel Kaluuyad and Frances McDormand pose outside the 93rd Annual Academy Awards press room. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool)Source: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool
Social conscience gripped a historic COVID-constrained Oscars ceremony with a record nine of the twenty nominated acting roles performed by people of colour.
Nadine Silva

NITV News, AP, Reuters
26 Apr 2021 - 4:10 PM  UPDATED 26 Apr 2021 - 4:10 PM

Chinese-born Chloe Zhao has become the first woman of colour to win best director at the 93rd Academy Awards. 

Her film 'Nomadland', which also took the top prize of Best Picture, centres around a woman forced to live in a van after losing both her job and husband, and questions the fragility of the American Dream. 

“I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how I keep going when things get hard,” Ms Zhao said in her acceptance speech, referring to a Chinese poem she used to read with her father that began with the phrase “people at birth are entirely good.”

73-year-old Youn Yuh-Jung became the first South Korean actor to win an Oscar, winning Best Supporting Actress for playing an irritable grandmother in the immigrant tale Minari. 

Ms Youn made a joke about people mispronouncing her name, saying, "tonight you are all forgiven."

It seems the expanded diversity of this year’s Oscars went hand-in-hand with social consciousness, as Presenter Regina King mentioned the guilty verdict in the trial of former policeman Derek Chauvin early in the evening.

"We are mourning the loss of so many and I have to be honest, if things had gone differently this past week in Minneapolis, I might have traded in my heels for marching boots.”

Ms King added, "as the mother of a Black son, I know the fear that so many live with, and no amount of fame or fortune changes that."

Daniel Kaluuya paid tribute to Black Panthers’ leader Fred Hampton, who was killed during a police raid in 1969, during his acceptance speech of Best Supporting Actor.

Mr Kaluuya, who played Mr Hampton in Shaka King's 'Judas and the Black Messiah', said the Black Panther party showed him how to love himself and cultivated love in the black community.

“They showed us the power of union, the power of unity, so when they say divide and conquer, we say unite and ascend.”

In a moment of levity, he also thanked his parents for having sex to create him.

In another milestone, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom's Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first Black women to win an Oscar for makeup and hairstyle.

“I know that one day it won't be unusual or groundbreaking, it will just be normal," Ms Neal said. 

Many expected Best Actor would go to the late Chadwick Boseman for his role in his final film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but the prize instead went to an absent 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins for his portrayal of a man with dementia in 'The Father'.

This year's acting nominees are the most diverse in history, with nine of the twenty nominated roles performed by people of colour. Further, more women were nominated in 2021 than in any previous year.

The Oscars have faced criticism for overlooking performers of colour in previous years, as a social media campaign called #OscarsSoWhite erupted in 2015 against the lack of diversity amongst acting nominees who were all white. 

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In response, the Academy instituted new inclusion and diversity guidelines for filmmakers to meet for their work to be eligible for Best Picture. 

However, this year’s nominating process was unaffected by the new diversity rules which will only take effect from 2024.

Despite the greater diversity amongst nominees for this year’s top awards, the University of California, which tracks the diversity of the Oscars, said women and people of colour remained underrepresented in the behind-the-scenes and technical categories.

The academy of roughly 10,000 members remains overwhelmingly white and male.