Even though the 2021 Oscars were arranged in the midst of a pandemic, it had its silver linings. The ceremony marked a moment of real change, when it came to celebrating diversity. This year saw the first Asian-American best actor nominee (Steven Yeun for "Minari"), two women nominated for best director for the first time (Chloé Zhao for "Nomadland"; Emerald Fennell for "Promising Young Woman"), and the first Muslim best actor nominee (Riz Ahmed for "Sound of Metal"). Nearly half the top acting nominations went to people of colour.
Chloé Zhao's "Nomadland," a wistful film about itinerant lives on open roads across the American West, won Best Picture at this year's Oscars. China-born Zhao became the first woman of colour to win Best Director, and a historically diverse group of winners took home awards.
The Academy Awards took steps to make changes, in response to the recent shamings of #OscarsSoWhite. They included more people of colour, women, and young filmmakers in their membership criteria. This year, consequently, was exceptional in terms of diversity and representation.
That being said, there is a significant relationship between the two phenomena — Covid-19 and diversity.
The March 2020 shutdown and the ongoing closure of cinema theatres led studios to withdraw big films such as "Dune", "West Side Story", "The French Dispatch", and "In the Heights". This made the way for smaller films by newcomers and lesser-known directors through "Sound of Metal", "Nomadland", "The Father", "Minari", and "Promising Young Woman". The closure of cinema theatres also opened up opportunities for streaming platforms. Netflix's "Mank" garnered the most Oscar nominations this year (10). Netflix is also behind "The Trial of the Chicago 7", and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom", which received 11 more nominations between them.
Voters of the Oscars are known to be susceptible to the "buzz" or influence, which essentially comes down to a combination of industry pressure, box-office success, and simply following the herd. Last year, through an amazing combination of momentum, merit, and marketing, "Parasite" took home the Best Picture trophy — which highlights an underdog success story. This year, it appears that free from any "buzz", the voters had the space to make up their own minds.
Decisions by the Academy Awards may be changing Hollywood from within, but cruelly, this year's recognised films are likely to miss out on commercial success. With cinema theatres shut, we will have to find out on the internet which streaming platform is showing what, and for how much.