A Unique Oscars Evening

by Elizabeth Yang ’22

Source: Getty Images

Published May 13th, 2021

Given the chaos this past year, it was evident that the 93rd Academy Awards would be an unusual night. Even so, nobody could have prepared for the vast changes in the program.

The Academy took an amusing, cinematic approach to kick off the show. Rather than the signature monologue from a host or a montage of films displayed on an immense screen, this year’s awards opened with actress Regina King striding through Los Angeles Union Station. Part of the show remained at the Academy’s home in the Dolby Theater, but the main ceremony took place at the historical train station. 

As King power-walked towards the dais, movie-like credits flashed across the screen, displaying the evening’s pool of presenters. For the third time in a row, the Oscars did not have an emcee, but instead relied on a number of celebrity presenters. Among those who took the stage included Angela Bassett, Bong Joon Ho, Laura Dern, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, and Zendaya. 

In addition to the unfamiliar presentation, the coronavirus allowed new nominations into the spotlight. Unlike in previous years, a theatrical qualifying run was not required as production companies withheld theater releases due to pandemic regulations. With the exception of a few works, this year’s conditions instead paved the way for the recognition of lesser known videos on-demand (VOD) and streaming releases on platforms like Disney+, Amazon, and Netflix. 

Though the procedures were peculiar, many viewers were still excited, particularly because of the new names among the candidates. This year marked the most diverse nominations list in history. In both acting categories, actors and actresses of color comprised the majority of the list. Groundbreaking nominees included Riz Ahmed, the Sound of Metal star and first actor of Pakistani descent to be nominated in an acting category, and Minari’s Steven Yeun, the first Asian-American to be nominated for Best Actor. 

Coming home with the most wins was Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland, which won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress. Zhao undoubtedly made history, becoming the first woman of color and only second woman to win Best Director. 

Diversity in the Academy Awards has always been a source of criticism. After facing recent backlash, the Academy pledged to follow new diversity requirements. The results this year indeed demonstrated a significant shift in racial and gender representation. However, the set requirements have received mixed opinions regarding the quality of the nominees and whether the Oscars still represent cinema as an art. 

With the adjustments to selection processes and show delivery, the 2021 Oscars demonstrated the embracement of a new era for award shows. Like the Academy, all programs must be on their feet to keep up with the tides of a changing world.

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