Transformed by Covid and Industry Shifts, the 2021 Academy Awards Sets Off

LOS ANGELES – A surreal 93rd Academy Awards, a televised stage show about films that mainly go online, began on Sunday with Regina King, a former Academy Award winner and director of One Night in Miami, who performed for Dinner strutted club set.

“It’s been quite a year and we’re still in the middle of it,” she said, citing the pandemic and the guilty verdict in the George Floyd murder trial. “Our love of movies helped us get through.”

With a little more preamble, Oscar statuettes were handed out, and Emerald Fennell, a first-time nominee, won Best Original Screenplay for Promising Young Woman, a startling revenge drama. The last woman to win this category alone was Diablo Cody (“Juno”) in 2007.

“It’s so heavy and so cold,” said Fennell of the gilded Oscar statuette in an impromptu speech that took up one she wrote when she was 10 and loved Zack Morris on the television series “Saved By the Bell.” “You said write a speech. I’m going to have trouble with Steven Soderbergh, ”she said.

Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller won the adapted script award for “The Father” about the devastation caused by dementia. Another Round, about middle-aged men who want to get drunk every day, won an Oscar for International Feature Film (formerly known as Foreign Language Film). The Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg dedicated “Another Round” to his daughter Ida, who was killed in a car accident in 2019.

“Perhaps you’ve pulled some strings somewhere,” said Vinterberg, fighting back the tears.

At the ceremony, there was a possibility that the night might go down in Hollywood history. People of Color were nominated for all four acting awards – an indication that the film industry has made significant reforms. The academy, with around 10,000 members, is still predominantly white and male, but the organization invited more women and people of color to join its ranks after the intense outcry by #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 and 2016, when the incumbent nominees were all white . This year nine of the 20 nominations went to people of color.

As expected, Daniel Kaluuya was named supporting actor for playing the leader of the Black Panther, Fred Hampton, in Judas and the Black Messiah.

“Bro, we’re out here!” Kaluuya shouted solemnly before getting serious and paying tribute to Hampton (“what a man, what a man”) and ending with the cri de coeur: “When they played divide and conquer, we said unite and ascend.”

Hollywood wanted the TV show’s producers to do an almost impossible hat trick. First and foremost, they were asked to create a show that would keep TV ratings from dropping to alarming lows – while also celebrating films that, for the most part, had little audience relevance. The production team, which included Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”), is also hoping to use the television show to start the theater. This is no easy task when most of the world has been at the box office for more than a year. Ultimately, manufacturers had to integrate live camera feeds from more than 20 locations in order to comply with coronavirus security restrictions.

The Academy of Arts and Sciences for Feature Films had postponed the event, which usually takes place in February, to escape the pandemic. Nevertheless, the red carpet had to be radically reduced in size and the extravagant parties canceled.

Updated

April 25, 2021, 9:42 p.m. ET

For the first time, the Academy nominated two women for best director and recognized Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland”, a bittersweet meditation on grief and the American dream, and Fennell for “Promising Young Woman” for the consequences of sexual assault. The other nominated directors were David Fincher for “Mank,” a black and white love letter to Old Hollywood; Lee Isaac Chung for “Minari,” a semi-autobiographical story about a Korean-American family; and surprisingly Vinterberg for “Another Round”.

Zhao had been hailed for her “nomad land” direction by nearly 60 other organizations, including the Directors Guild of America and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. In 93 years of the Oscars, only one woman, Kathryn Bigelow, has ever won. (Bigelow was celebrated for directing “The Hurt Locker” in 2010.) The directing category has also been dominated by white men over the decades, which makes the nomination of Chinese Zhao even more significant.

Netflix received its first Oscar nomination in 2014 for The Square, a documentary about the Egyptian revolution. Since then, the streaming giant has dominated the nominations, in large part due to the high spending on price campaigns. It amassed 36 this year, more than any other company, with Mank receiving 10 more than any other film.

But Netflix and its astute price warriors keep snooping in the end.

Last year the company’s hopes were based on The Irishman. Not even one of his 10 nominations was able to convert into a win. In 2019, Netflix pushed “Roma”. It won three Academy Awards, including one for Alfonso Cuarón’s direction, but lost the Grand Prix.

On Sunday, Netflix had two nominees, “Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7”. These films competed with Zhao’s “Nomadland,” a contribution from Searchlight, a division of the Walt Disney Company. The other nominees for best picture were “Sound of Metal”, “Minari”, “Promising Young Woman”, “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “The Father”.

Soderbergh wasn’t your usual Oscar producer, which may make him the perfect pick for this very unusual year. He and his production partners for the event, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins, avoided Zoom and implemented enough protocols to allow nominees a mask-free environment.

In the run-up to Sunday, Soderbergh repeatedly referred to the show as a three-act film. The television station’s staff included filmmaker Dream Hampton “Surviving R. Kelly” and veteran writer and director Richard LaGravenese (“The Fisher King”). Moderators were referred to as “performers”. These included Zendaya, Brad Pitt, and Bong Joon Ho, last year’s best director winner.

The ceremony usually included performances of the five pieces that were nominated for best song. Not this year. These were brought from the main stage to a preshow that allowed them to be performed in their entirety.

That year, however, the academy decided to hand out two honorary Oscars during the main show. (Since 2009, honorary statuettes have been awarded during a non-televised fall banquet.) The non-profit film and television fund that draws technicians for a nursing home and retirement village for aging and sick “industrial” people (actors, executives, choreographers, lighting) , Cameramen), received one. Founded in 1921 by stars like Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, the organization also offers a wide range of other services to Hollywood seniors.

The second went to Tyler Perry, whom the Academy described as “a cultural influence that goes well beyond his work as a filmmaker.” Perry, of course, began his entertainment career as a playwright. Since the end of his popular nine-film series “Madea” in 2019, Perry has focused on producing TV shows such as “Bruh”, “Sistahs” and “The Oval” for BET. He owns a studio in Atlanta.

The Dolby Theater, home to more than 3,000 people and which has hosted the Academy Awards since 2001, wasn’t the epicenter of the television broadcast. That year, an Art Deco Mission Revival train station in downtown Los Angeles served as the main venue and only the nominees and their guests attended.

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