Apr 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Diversity takes center stage at the Oscars

  Director/Producer Chloe Zhao, winner of Best Directing and Best Picture for "Nomadland," poses in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles.
Director/Producer Chloe Zhao, winner of Best Directing and Best Picture for "Nomadland," in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday at Union Station in Los Angeles. Photo: Chris Pizzello-Pool/Getty Images

A slew of first-time winners made history at the 93rd Academy Awards Sunday night, bringing the Oscars' focus on diversity into clearer view this year.

Why it matters: Ever since the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign that began in 2015, the Academy has sought to shake the show's reputation as a mostly white male-dominated event. Still, Hollywood has a long way to go in achieving diversity amongst its ranks.

Details: "Nomadland," a movie about a 60-year-old American woman wandering the West, won the award for Best Picture.

  • Chloé Zhao, who directed the film, made history as the first woman of color and the first Chinese woman to win an Oscar for Best Director. She's the second woman to win the award.
  • Yuh-Jung Youn became the first Korean actor to win an acting Academy Award for her performance in "Minari."
  • Ann Roth won the award for Best Costume Design, making her the oldest woman to win an Oscar at age 89.
  • Daniel Kaluuya, a Black British actor, won the award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Judas and the Black Messiah," a historical drama about the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party.
  • "Judas and the Black Messiah," also took home the award for Best Original Song.
  • "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom," a drama about a 1920s blues singer, starring Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, picked up two awards, including the award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, which went to Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson — the first Black winners in the category.
  • Disney's "Soul," which is Pixar's first film to feature an African-American lead, took home the awards for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Score.

Be smart: Heading into the show, the list of nominees was more diverse than ever before, thanks in part to an expansion of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group that selects nominees.

The big picture: Netflix took home seven prizes Sunday evening — more than any other studio.

  • It received two awards for "Mank," a biographical drama about a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1940's. Mank received 10 nominations — more than any other film. Netflix also received two awards for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom."
  • Still, Netflix failed to take home the top prize for Best Movie and it didn't win any acting awards. The streamer made history with a whopping 35 Oscar nominations this year.

The big picture: The Oscars show — directed by Hollywood veteran Steven Soderbergh — was undeniably slow, which could be a ratings disaster for ABC. The event was meant to feel more intimate than the other pandemic-era award shows, but it lacked the pizazz that viewers typically expect from a red-carpet event.

  • Acceptance speeches were heartfelt but too long. There were no live musical performances. Very few movie clips were shown.
  • The show ended in the most anti-climatic way possible, with the Best Actor award going to Anthony Hopkins — who wasn't there to accept the prize — instead of Boseman.
  • There was no host. Instead, a rotating cast of Hollywood A-listers, like Regina King, Bryan Cranston and Reese Witherspoon, took turns hosting mini-segments and announcing different awards.
  • Zoom was limited. The show avoided kitschy virtual moments and instead opted for a more intimate, traditional feel. (The audience members weren't wearing masks when they were featured on camera.)

Bottom line: The event was boring, but historically significant.

Go deeper: Oscars viewership could drop, while ad revenue may jump

Editor's note: The story corrects Zhao's nationality. She is Chinese, not Chinese American.

Go deeper