Championing The ‘Most Diverse Oscar Nominations’: A Year Of Firsts

Tylah Mofford

After halting my day at exactly 12.20pm on Monday 15th March to tune in to Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra revealing the 2021 Oscar nominations (which was obviously much more important than my seminar at that time), I was pleasantly surprised by the diverse nature of the nominations.

For the first time in the history of the Academy Awards, nine people of colour have been nominated in the Awards’ acting categories: Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Steven Yeun (Minari), Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah), Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami…), LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah), Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday) and Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari).

This year’s Awards will go down in history no matter who wins

Alongside this amazing array of nominations comes a series of further ‘firsts’ for individual nominees. For Riz Ahmed, not only is this his first Oscar nomination, but the first time a Muslim has been nominated for an Academy Award in the lead actor category. Likewise, Steven Yeun becomes the first Asian-American Best Actor nominee of Korean descent, and Yeun’s co-star Yuh-Jung Youn also makes history as South Korea’s first Oscar-nominated actress. Such extraordinary firsts mean this year’s Awards will go down in history no matter who wins, a feat which must be celebrated.

Deserving just as much celebration as the above nominees are the Best Director nominations for Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman). Shockingly, over the 93 years the Oscars have been taking place, there have only ever been five female director nominees, so this years’ nomination of two females for the same award is another celebration for the history books. Furthermore, Chloé Zhao becomes the first female of Asian descent to receive this nomination, which is equally amazing. However, with several female-directed films being released each year, such as 2018’s Mary Queen of Scots or 2019’s Little Women, it begs the question of why there are not female director nominees every year? Perhaps this year, for the first time since Katheryn Bigelow’s win in 2009, we will be lucky enough to not only celebrate these as nominees, but also crown one as the second ever female to win the Oscar for Best Director.

Until we no longer have to describe a list of nominations as ‘extraordinary’ due to the diversity shown, there is still work left to do

Championing aside, we cannot get carried away. The diversity shown in this year’s nominations does not necessarily signify permanent changes for the Academy, as seen in previous years. Whilst the 2019 Oscar nominations saw huge victories for people of colour, such as Best Actor winner Rami Malek and Best Supporting Actress winner Regina King, the diversity did not continue into 2020 – which saw Cynthia Erivo as the only non-white acting nominee. Obviously, every year cannot be ground-breaking or history-making, but with so many ‘firsts’ left to achieve, there is no excuse for such inconsistency. Yes, this year should be celebrated, but not so much that the downfalls of past (or future) years get ignored. Until we no longer have to describe a list of nominations as ‘extraordinary’ due to the diversity shown, there is still work left to do.

This being said, there is no doubt that the 2021 Oscar nominations are a huge stride in the right direction for the Academy. Whether this marks true change or is just a one-off, only time will tell.

Tylah Mofford

Featured Image courtesy of Davidlohr Bueso via  Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In article images courtesy of theacademy via Instagram. No changes made to these images.

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