This year’s Oscars were anything but normal. It seemed like an accurate reflection of the abnormality of the past year. After a historic win by South Korea’s Parasite last year, it took only a month before 2020 went… well, where everyone knows it went. We don’t have to keep spelling that one out, do we?
With movie theaters closed and film releases delayed, this proved a challenging time for the Academy Awards. What films would they honor when it seemed so few had made it to a wide audience?
With this in mind, the Academy pushed back the ceremony from its usual spot in early February to a new date in late April. With a few more months to gather nominees in 2021, the Academy opened an opportunity for some amazing releases to slip in. In the end, this proved to be yet another history-making move.
Moving from the Dolby Theatre to a socially distanced Union Station in Los Angeles, the ceremony had a very different vibe. Gone were the rigid structures, massive crowds, and quick-capped cutoffs of acceptance speeches. The ceremony this year felt much more casual and free. Many people took issue with this change, but I found it to be a breath of fresh air, much like this year’s Grammys.
The only odd structural choice that took place was the reordering of the awards. Usually, awards for Best Director and Best Picture come at the very end. This year, the Best Director award came almost right out of the gate. It was a sudden jump, and unexpected. But the category this year was set to make another historic move.
Calling in from the Dolby Cinema in Seoul, last year’s Best Director Bong Joon-ho opened the envelope, saying those five famous words:
“And the Oscar goes to…”
Chloe Zhao, the Chinese director of Nomadland, made history. Zhao became the first woman of color, and only the second woman ever, to win Best Director in the 91-year history of the Academy Awards.
As Joon-ho held out the card announcing Zhao’s name, anyone watching knew what an inspiring image that was. In a time of such turmoil for the Asian community, two Asian filmmakers made history two years in a row.
And for women, this was yet another step toward an equal playing field. The gap is still far from closed. But this year, the Academy seemed to do something right. With even more films on the horizon as the world finds a sense of normalcy again, I hope the historic streak can continue next year. –Bren Swogger
Photo: Bong Joon-ho holds Chloe Zhao’s “Best Director” card at the 2021 Academy Awards.