The 93rd Oscar Nominations: Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

| March 16, 2021

After the most troubling year in the history of The Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally revealed its nominees for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards to be awards April 25th, and, it’s a challenge to those who demanded more diversity.  Herein lies a historic year in which the Best Director category, for the very first time, includes two women – one of whom is Chinese and also the frontrunner.  Yet, while it is a step forward, it’s also a step backward.

It’s a strange year that finds nominees among the acclaimed and the merely mediocre.  Sadly, the mediocre leads the pack.  David Fincher’s messy and historically bumbling Netflix production Mank – the story of the process by which Herman Mankiewicz brought Citizen Kane to life on the page earned 10 nominations including Best Picture, Best Director (Fincher, his third), Best Actor for Gary Oldman (his third), Best Supporting Actress for Amanda Seyfried (her first), as well as awards for Sound, Production Design, Music, Cinematography and Make-up & Hairstyling.  Sadly (and somewhat ironically) missing was a Best Original Screenplay nod written by Fincher’s late father Jack.

The other Best Picture nominees shared the wealth with six nominations: The Father, which stars Anthony Hopkins as a man suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease; Judas and the Black Messiah about the FBI’s plot to kill Black Panther Leader Fred Hampton; Minari about a Korean family moving to central Arkansas to start their own farm; Nomadland with Frances McDormand leaving home to live in her life as a nomad; The Sound of Metal about a heavy metal drummer who is losing his hearing.  Nabbing five nominations were The Trial of the Chicago 7 and the revenge thriller Promising Young Woman.

Black representation is already being addressed as we speak.  There’s good news and bad news.  The good news is a strong showing for Viola Davis in the Best Actress for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, as well as the late Chadwick Boseman for Best Actor.  The bad news is that its director, George C. Wolfe, was not nominated, nor did the film earn a Best Picture nomination.

Heavy favorite One Night in Miami earned only three nominations; Kemp Powers nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Leslie Odom, Jr. for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Song, along with Sam Ashworth for “Speak Now.”  The bad news is that the film did not receive a Best Picture nomination and even more detrimental did not receive a Best Director nod for Regina King.

Judas and the Black Messiah a recent Netflix release about the FBI’s plot to murder Black Panther leader Fred Hampton did receive a Best Picture nomination but not a Best Director nomination for Shaka King.  It did, however score nominations it’s Screenplay, it’s cinematography and a nod for Best Original Song for “Fight for You.”  Yet, in a real head-scratcher the film’s two leads Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Standfield both received nominations for Best Supporting Actor, begging the question: Who was in the lead?

Yet, if these nominations were one step forward and two steps back, the one that steps back the furthest is Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods which many expected to have multiple nominations, but instead was a no-show for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Delroy Lindo and Best Supporting Actor for the late Chadwick Boseman.  The film earned only one nomination for Terence Blanchard’s score.  The reasons are many, but probably the most likely was timing.  The film dropped on Netflix in June, and with The Academy’s infamous short memory, that could have been to the film’s detriment.

It is very likely that Chadwick Boseman will win the Best Actor award posthumously for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but there’s still competition.  He faces Anthony Hopkins in The Father (his sixth), Gary Oldman for Mank (his third) and first-time nominations for Korean Actor Steven Yeun in Minari and Riz Ahmed for Sound of Metal, the first Pakistani ever nominated for an acting prize.

The Best Actress prize looks to shape up a third for Frances McDormand in Nomadland (It’s her sixth nomination), but she faces Viola Davis for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the most honored woman of color in the acting categories – this is her fourth nomination.  They face first time nominees Andra Day for The United States vs. Billie Holliday, Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman and Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman.

As for Best Supporting Actor, it is hard to tell who will win here.  Daniel Kaluuya is the only person returning this year (he was nominated four years ago for Get Out.  He faces the aforementioned LaKeith Stanfield along with Sasha Baron Cohen for The Trial of the Chicago 7, Paul Raci for Sound of Metal and Leslie Odom Jr. who played Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami . . .

At this point Best Supporting Actress is pointed at Amanda Seyfried in a surprisingly good performance as Marion Davies in Mank – this is her first nomination.   She faces previous Best Actress winner Olivia Coleman for The Father and eight-time nominee Glenn Close, this time nominated for Ron Howard’s critically decimated Hillbilly Elegy.  Rounding things are two first time actresses: Youn Yuh-jung as the grandmother in Minari and Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.


The question of representation is open for discussion, and it is problematic mainly because while The Academy did open up to a wide birth of cultures, it already seems to have witnessed a backlash.

This year sees a historical move in that, for once, a film with a black production team was nominated for Best Picture (Judas and the Black Messiah) and it was very nice to see nominations for Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Leslie Odom, Jr., Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield and Andra Day. 

For me, it’s a case of picking my battles.  I’ve had my brain wrapped around Oscar for 30 years now – ever since Dances With Wolves – and I have learned to step back and look at the process as a process.  Ever since #oscarssowhite, I have seen The Academy respond in kind, not just with a polite ‘hee-go’ to douse a controversy but a concerted effort to spread its wings and freely admit that there are other voices in the country and around the world from people who have unique stories to tell.  They took strides to embrace the global cinematic community and since then one could feel the changes being made.

But, of course, it’s a flawed system.  The entire business of the Academy Awards is a flawed system, and it makes diversity difficult to perfect, particularly because the world entire is difficult to fully honor within the framework of 24 categories.  2020 showed that the new Black Cinematic Renaissance is happening and I give the Academy voters points for rewarding some of the best of the year, but I am also on the fence.  Am I to be happy with what is there or upset that there wasn’t more?  This is a point that comes up every year and, to be honest, I have less to complain about this year than I did in previous years when there was no representation at all.  This year raises a lot of questions.  Yes, the representation is here, but is it enough?

Yes, I would love to have seen more from Da 5 Bloods and a nomination for Regina King, but I am also looking at two women who were nominated for Best Director, one of whom Chinese and the frontrunner.  This year for the first time, a Pakistani actor, Riz Ahmed, was nominated for Best Actor.  This year a Bulgarian woman, Maria Bakalova, is nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  Plus Steven Yeun and Youn Yun-jung from Minari are both from South Korea.

Maybe it’s me.  I’m just a dumb white guy who watches movies all day and writes about them at night.  I’m looking down the barrel of the Academy’s historic hypocrisy and trying to find something positive to say about it, but I’m smart enough to know that there are always going to be problems.  Representation is representing the entire spectrum and that’s difficult because in every Oscar year, someone has to stay and someone has to go – that’s the curse of having 24 categories.

Yet, the questions remain: Who represents?  Why do they represent?  Why don’t they represent others?  What are the motivating factors?  Different answers to these questions will depend greatly on your perspective.  They may slack in some areas while pulling strong in others, and that’s what The Academy has done this year.  It’s a tough system, fundamentally flawed but willing to try and move forward.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but at least they’re trying.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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