2021 Oscars: Chloé Zhao’s ‘Nomadland’ wins big during a socially-distant ceremony

  • ‘Promising Young Woman’, ‘Soul’ and ‘My Octopus Teacher’ all claimed awards during the Covid-19 friendly gala
  • Youn Yuh-jung won best supporting actress for her role in ‘Minari’, while Daniel Kaluuya took home the statue for best supporting actor
Agence France-Presse |

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South Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn accepts the award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for ‘Minari’ during the 93rd Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Photo: Todd Wawrychuk/A.M.P.A.S./dpa

Nomadland emerged as the big winner at the Oscars on Sunday with three major prizes, including a history-making award for director Chloé Zhao , as Hollywood celebrated its most glamorous night with a unique pandemic-era gala.

Zhao’s drama about marginalised Americans roaming the West in vans was honoured for best picture, director and actress for Frances McDormand.

The unorthodox Oscars ceremony was moved from a Hollywood theatre to a glammed-up downtown train station to abide by strict Covid-19 protocols, and reunited A-list stars for the first time in more than a year.

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Zhao, who is the first woman of colour and second woman ever honoured as best director, thanked “all the people we met on the road ... for teaching us the power of resilience and hope, and for reminding us what true kindness looks like.”

“It’s pretty fabulous to be a woman in 2021,” Zhao told journalists as a virtual backstage Q&A, adding:

“If this win means more people get to live their dreams, I’m extremely grateful.”

“Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible. And one day very, very soon, take everyone you know into a theatre, shoulder to shoulder in that dark space, and watch every film that is represented here tonight,” said McDormand.

Zhao, who has drawn controversy in China after years-old interviews resurfaced in which she appeared to criticise her country of birth, quoted classical Chinese poetry in her acceptance speech.

But she was scrubbed from Chinese social media on Monday as a nationalist backlash airbrushed out her achievement, with recent posts containing her name and Nomadland mysteriously wiped from the Twitter-like site Weibo.

Her win was also met with silence by Chinese media.

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The award for best supporting actress went to Youn Yuh-jung for the Korean immigrant drama Minari.

“How can I win over Glenn Close?” she said, acknowledging her fellow nominee, who has a joint-record eight acting nominations but no wins in her career.

Daniel Kaluuya won best supporting actor for his portrayal of slain 1960s Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, which also won best song for multiple Grammy winner H.E.R.

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Promising Young Woman won best original screenplay, the night’s first award. Emerald Fennell, who was seven months pregnant when she shot the #MeToo revenge thriller, thanked her son who “did not arrive until a couple of weeks after shooting, thank God.”

Netflix’s Mank began the night with the most nominations - 10 - but ended up with two wins in technical categories, as did Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Amazon’s Sound of Metal.

Soul became Pixar’s latest Oscar winner for best animated feature, and also picked up best score, while South African aquatic wildlife feature My Octopus Teacher won best documentary.

‘In the flesh’

The 93rd Oscars began with a movie-style opening credits sequence, as actor-director Regina King strode into the venue clutching a gold statuette.

“Live TV, here we go. Welcome to the 93rd Oscars!” she said.

“And, yes, we are doing it maskless ... people have been vaxxed, tested, re-tested, socially distanced,” she added, comparing the show to a movie set.

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Before the show, stars paused briefly for pictures and socially distanced interviews on what organisers called a “teeny-tiny red carpet,” where actresses Carey Mulligan and Andra Day dazzled fashion fans in Oscars gold.

“We’re here, isn’t it crazy?” said best actor nominee and Sound of Metal star Riz Ahmed. “Human beings in the flesh!”

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