It was a night of lots of superlatives. The first socially distanced Oscars ceremony, held in the vast halls of LA’s Union Station two months after the original date. The first woman of colour to win best director, and only the second woman at all. The oldest best actor, and a Korean-speaking best supporting actress, and the oldest woman to win an Oscar: 89-year-old Ann Roth, the costume designer for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
The undisputed victor of the evening was Nomadland, which took Best Picture, Best Director for Chloë Zhao and Best Actress for Frances McDormand (both pictured above). It’s McDormand’s third Oscar in the category, matching Daniel Day Lewis’s Best Actor wins and only surpassed by Katharine Hepburn’s four.
The film, adapted from a non-fiction book, is Chinese-born Zhao’s third feature, and like the others, uses mainly non-professional actors. The director immerses herself in the communities portrayed in her films – Lakota Sioux reservations for the first two, and here, modern American nomads: in a throwback to the Depression era of Grapes of Wrath, people moving around the country looking for work and living in cars and camper vans.
At 83, Sir Anthony Hopkins picked up his second Best Actor Oscar, for The Father, adapted from French playwright Florian Zeller’s play about dementia. (The first was for Silence of the Lambs.) Our colleagues at the Nouvelle revue pédagogique interviewed Zeller about his family trilogy of plays The Mother, The Father and The Son.
Hopkins plays a fiercely independent octogenarian and Olivia Colman plays his daughter, who struggles to help her father as he begins losing his memory and suffering from mood swings.
Another family drama that was honoured was Minari, the story of Korean immigrants trying to start a farm in rural Arkansas. Veteran Korean actress Yuh-jung Youn won Best Supporting Actress for her role as the grandmother in the film, which is mainly in Korean.
Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung had almost given up filmmaking when he finally managed to get this film financed, through one of the more diverse production companies that have been bringing a wider range of stories to the screen.
These include several that were nominated in this year's Oscars that were inspired by true stories from African American history including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, about a pioneering blues singer and The United States vs. Billie Holiday, about the singer’s surveillance by the FBI.
Two films about the Black Panther movement were nominated. One Night in Miami is an imagined conversation between the future Mohammad Ali and Black Panther Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and American football player Jim Brown the night Ali won the World Heavyweight boxing title in segregated Miami. And Judas and the Black Messiah is the story of a young African American persuaded to infiltrate the Black Panther movement to avoid a prison term. British actor Daniel Kaluua won Best Supporting Actor for his role as Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.
Where to watch
Nomadland and Minari on general release 9 June
The Father: TBA
The United States vs Billie Holiday on general release 30 June
One Night in Miami: available on Amazon Prime
Judas and the Black Messiah : available on MyCanal
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom available on Netflix
Fox Searchlight/Disney Films
> Golden Globes 2021: Congratulations Chloé Zhao!
> Three Billboards and a Mother’s Fury
> The Western Re-invented