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2021 Oscar nominations snubs and surprises: Asian actors make history, Black directors miss out

Ethan Alter and Kevin Polowy
·9 min read
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The 2021 Oscar nominations are in and although the Motion Picture Academy has given us the most diverse acting field ever, there were still some notable snubs.

For example, there are two female filmmakers in the Best Director race for the first time ever — including the first ever Asian woman, Chloé Zhao — but there really could have been three, including the first ever Black woman, Regina King. In the Best Actor race, Steven Yeun became the first Asian American and Riz Ahmed became the first Muslim and person of Pakistani descent ever nominated in that category; however critical favorite Delroy Lindo was shut out for his role Da 5 Bloods. Chadwick Boseman is the first posthumous acting nominee since Heath Ledger (and seventh overall) for Best Actor in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom; although many pundits expected him to be a double nominee, his anticipated nod for Supporting Actor for Da 5 Bloods never materialized. Meanwhile, LaKeith Stanfield scored one of the biggest shocks of the day by landing in Best Supporting Actor for Judas and the Black Messiah, joining favorite Daniel Kaluuya in the category.

Overall, though, nine actors of color were nominated, an Academy record — a giant step up over last year, when only one actor of color (Harriet’s Cynthia Erivo) was balloted.

Here are the biggest snubs and surprises from Monday's Oscar nominations, which David Fincher’s Mank topped with 10 total nods.

SNUB: Black-led dramas fall short in Best Picture

Last month, the Golden Globes drew heavy criticism for not including any Black-led films in the Best Picture, Drama category in a year with a handful of strong contenders — and the backlash helped unearth the stunning revelation that its voting body, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, doesn't have a single Black member. The Oscars just narrowly avoided making the same mistake. Highly acclaimed stage-to-screen adaptations Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Yahoo Entertainment’s No. 1 movie of 2020) and One Night in Miami both missed out for Best Picture, as did Spike Lee’s longer-shot contender Da 5 Bloods. The Academy can be thankful for Shaka King’s Fred Hamption biopic Judas and the Black Messiah, a late-arriving entry that cracked a field of eight nominees — a field that also include the predominantly Korean/Korean-American-featuring Minari.

SURPRISE: Voters make Oscar history by recognizing two female filmmakers in the Best Director race

It has taken 93 years, but the Best Director boys’ club has been dealt its most significant blow. For the first time in Oscar history, two of the five slots are occupied by female filmmakers: Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao — the first Asian woman nominated in the category — and Promising Young Woman’s Emerald Fennell. That brings the total number of nominations for women directors over the past nine decades up to seven — maybe we can make it an even 10 next year.

SNUB: One Night in Miami’s Regina King leads a list of overlooked Black directors

In another case of Oscar voters taking one step forward and two steps back, One Night in Miami director Regina King missed out on bringing the total number of female directors up to three… and becoming the first Black woman in history to receive a Best Director nomination. In fact, no Black directors were recognized this year, even as movies featuring predominantly Black casts like Judas and the Black Messiah and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom racked up multiple nominations in other categories. It was an unfortunate omission that didn’t escape Twitter’s notice.

SURPRISE: Thomas Vinterberg crashes the Best Director race

Here’s an addition to your Oscar night drinking game: take a drink every time the breakout Danish feature Another Round is mentioned as a nominee. Although the widely admired film was expected to land its nomination for Best International Feature Film, few anticipated that director Thomas Vinterberg would also qualify in the Best Director race. Raise a glass to happy surprises!

SURPRISE: LaKeith Stanfield is biggest acting shock

It’s not that LaKeith Stanfield isn’t worthy of an Oscar nomination for his understated turn as petty thief-turned-FBI informant Bill O’Neal in Judas and the Black Messiah. It’s just that no one expected him to be nominated, especially in Best Supporting Actor. Warner Bros. submitted Stanfield in the Best Actor category, where the competition was incredibly stiff (Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman). And Stanfield’s costar Daniel Kaluuya, the early favorite to win Best Supporting Actor for his thunderous portrayal of Hampton, was a shoo-in. So how exactly did Stanfield end up nominated in that category? And then who exactly is the lead actor of Judas, if not Stanfield or Kaluuya?

SNUB: Chadwick Boseman missed out on repeating a double nomination

Last month, the late, great Chadwick Boseman was honored with a pair of posthumous Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild nominations for his final two performances in Spike Lee’s Da Five Bloods and George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. (He won the Globe for Best Actor for the latter role.) But Oscar voters only nominated him for Ma Rainey, meaning that Boseman joined his Blood brothers in going unrecognized for Spike Lee’s acclaimed Vietnam War epic.

SNUB: Delroy Lindo left out… again

Has any actor been disrespected more this awards season than Delroy Lindo? The 68-year-old screen vet turned in the performance of his career as a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD in Da 5 Bloods, so much so that in June prognosticators were already declaring the Oscar was his. That might have been the problem. It’d be another seven months until we got into the thick of awards season, where we saw Lindo get unceremoniously snubbed by the Golden Globes, then by the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and now again by the Oscars. At least we’ll always have this GIF.

SURPRISE: Glenn Close is both Razzie- and Oscar-nominated for Hillbilly Elegy

There’s no denying Glenn Close is transcendent — and barely recognizable after that physical transformation — as the sailor-mouthed, chain-smoking Appalachian granny Mamaw in Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy. Early word on the performance had Close finally winning that elusive Oscar (she has been nominated seven times prior). But the reviews for the film were absolutely brutal (if not a little unfair), putting her eighth nod on shaky ground. Last week, the rabble-rousers at the Razzie Awards went so far as to nominate Close for Worst Supporting Actress. With her semi-surprising Oscar nod Monday, though, Close becomes only the third person in history nominated for a Razzie and an Academy Award for the same performance, following James Coco (1982’s Only When I Laugh) and Barbra Streisand (1984’s Yentl). Not exactly the distinction any actor wants, and definitely not one Close deserves.

SNUB: The Obamas drew more votes than Stacey Abrams in the Best Documentary category

Georgia political superstar, Stacey Abrams, may have helped elevate President Joe Biden to the Oval Office, but Oscar voters cast their ballots for another POTUS: Barack Obama. The Netflix documentary, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution — which was made with the participation of the Obamas’ production company, Higher Ground Productions — scored a Best Documentary nod over Abrams’s own documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy. At least Abrams can boast to having something that President Obama doesn’t: a standing invitation from a certain Gotham City vigilante.

SURPRISE: Borat 2 and its many, many writers make the cut in Best Adapted Screenplay

The Sacha Baron Cohen prankfest Borat Subsequent Moviefilmdoesn’t exactly feel like a masterclass in screenwriting. It doesn’t even feel scripted most of the time, with Baron Cohen and Best Supporting Actress Maria Bakalova seemingly improvising their way through numerous highly sticky situations. Though it was, in fact, scripted — at least to begin with – and by a lotof writers. With its surprise nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, a record nine writersfill out the ballot for Borat 2. Not only that, it beat out the likes of all-world playwright Ruben Santiago-Hudson for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and previous nominees Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies for News of the World, and it becomes the first franchise with its first two entries nominated for writing awards since... The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974). Niiiiice?

SNUB: Eliza Hittman’s acclaimed abortion drama, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, was completely ignored

Despite receiving rapturous reviews and numerous critics’ awards, Eliza Hittman’s challenging abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always proved too challenging for Oscar voters. Sadly, the warning signs were there before nominations were announced, with one Academy member sending an email to the director explaining why he refused to watch her film. Hittman later posted, and then deleted, the email on her Instagram feed, speculating whether his views were shared by a majority of the organization’s “old white puritanical male guard.” We’ll let the results speak for themselves.

SURPRISE: No joke — a Eurovision tune qualified for Best Original Song

Finally, Oscar voters are realizing something that true music fans recognized all along: the best songs are Eurovision songs. The annual cavalcade of crazy that is the European song contest inspired the cult Netflix comedy, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as an Icelandic singing duo who qualify for the Big Show, where they perform their hometown ode “Husavik.” With that tune now up for Oscar consideration, here’s hoping that Ferrell and McAdams will reunite for an encore performance on awards night.

SNUB: Emmy champion Zendaya is left looking for Oscar love

Last fall, 24-year-old Euphoria star, Zendaya, made Emmy history by becoming the youngest actress ever to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. While she wouldn’t have set the same record at the Oscars — Marlee Matlin broke that barrier in 1987 when she won Best Actress at age 21 for Children of a Lesser God her youthful star power enlivened the Netflix relationship drama Malcolm & Marie and earned her a Globe nom, leading many to speculate that she’d make the final cut for an Academy Award. Instead, Pieces of a Woman’s Vanessa Kirby grabbed the youth vote.

SNUB: Jodie Foster won’t repeat after surprise Golden Globes win

Jodie Foster was a surprise Golden Globes nominee for her work as a lawyer defending a Guantanamo inmate in the late-breaking drama The Mauritanian, and an even bigger surprise winner when she upset folks like Maria Bakalova, Olivia Colman and Glenn Close to win the award. Foster, herself, called it the biggest surprise of her career. But the selectively working actress will not be repeating at the Oscars (she’s been nominated four times and has won twice), failing to pick up what would’ve been her first nod in 26 years. That also means Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers will not be getting another shout out on Oscar night. Sorry, MVP.

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