Netflix dominates 2021 Oscar nominations after eligibility rules change during Covid-19

  • More people of colour were recognised than ever, including the late Chadwick Boseman and Steven Yuen, the first Asian American to be considered for Best Actor for his role in ‘Minari’
  • Streaming services like Amazon Studios and HBO Max received all the attention, as the coronavirus shut cinemas for most of 2020
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Streaming services dominated at this year’s Oscar nominations, as the coronavirus pandemic closed cinemas and delayed the release of many blockbuster films. Photo: AFP

For the movie business, as for the rest of the world, 2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges and existential terrors. Cinemas were shuttered. Release calendars were scrambled. And Oscar season itself was pushed back two months, with this year’s Academy Awards delayed until April 25.

Yet despite it all, the motion picture academy still found plenty of films and performances worth celebrating, turning the annual ritual of the Oscar nominations announcement into a kind of collective pep talk for the industry.

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With moviegoing largely reduced for the past year to what you could watch on your couch, the academy altered its eligibility rules to allow films to qualify for Oscar consideration without a theatrical release.

Not surprisingly, streaming services have dominated, with three out of the eight best picture nominations going to Netflix (Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7) and Amazon Studios (Sound of Metal), and two more going to films that premiered on Hulu (Nomadland) and HBO Max (Judas and the Black Messiah) the same day they opened in cinemas.

‘Minari’ is an essential portrait of the American immigrant experience

For the second year in a row, Netflix led the pack with 35 total nominations, powered by Mank, which recounts the story behind Herman Mankiewicz’s screenplay for Citizen Kane as well as Chicago 7 and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

While big-budget spectacles were nowhere to be found among this year’s best picture nominees, the eight films in contention span a range of tones, scales and subject matters, including emotional dramas like The Father and Minari, the darkly comic thriller Promising Young Woman.

“The most beautiful part of the Oscars is that we can shine lights on stories that move us and connect us,” said Steven Yeun, who made history as the first Asian American ever nominated as lead actor for his turn in the tender immigrant tale Minari.

Steven Yuen made history as the first Asian American to be nominated for the Oscar for ‘Best Actor’ for his role in ‘Minari’. Photo: EPA

“But with this pandemic, I’m still figuring out what’s happened to us and where we’re at. It’s torn a veil off for all of us. A lot of institutions got seen for the brokenness for what they were. I’m thrilled and so blessed that I get to experience this. But I’m trying to hold both things at once, and it’s difficult.”

A number of actors of colour were recognised for their work this year, including Leslie Odom Jr. for One Night in Miami ... alongside fellow supporting actor nominees LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya of Judas and the Black Messiah. Riz Ahmed became the first Muslim to earn a lead actor nod and first performer of Pakistani descent recognised in any acting category, for his performance as a rock drummer who loses his hearing in Sound of Metal, while Chadwick Boseman drew a posthumous nomination in the same category for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

Daniel Kaluuya was nominated for an Oscar for 'Best Supporting Actor' for his role in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’. Photo: EPA

In the lead actress category, Andra Day followed her Golden Globes win with a nod for The United States vs. Billie Holiday, while Viola Davis earned her fourth Oscar nod for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, becoming the most-nominated Black actress ever.

For the first time, the directing category included two women, Chloé Zhao for Nomadland and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman.

Zhao, also nominated as a producer, editor and writer, is the first woman of colour nominated for directing.

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