2021 Oscar nominations put diversity first

A bright yellow background with a collage of colorful images and the title "Oscars" in the middle.
This year’s Academy Awards nominations were full of surprises, snubs and safe choices.  (Photo Courtesy of the Academy Awards.)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its official nominations for the 2021 ceremony Monday. While these monumental nominations celebrate films of the last year, it’s also important to take a look at the state of cinema right now. The Academy’s announcement comes nearly a year after theaters shut down across the nation due to the coronavirus. Aside from a couple of bursts of business, the American theatrical industry has widely remained non-existent during this new age.

Without traditional box office and shared cinema experiences, 2020’s films have largely been viewed at home, akin to television and streaming. The experiential nature of cinema has always been tied to the communal energy of a theatre. Now,that it has been replaced with small living rooms, the line between film and TV viewing experience has blurred almost completely.

2020 has pushed cinema to the brink, removing its unifying impact on society for nearly a year. As one of the most affordable entertainment experiences, cinema has always allowed people of different races, classes, origins and political views to come together and speak the same language — the language of stories, characters and drama. So, one of the most isolated years in recent human history was only made lonelier with the absence of any theaters to bring us together to celebrate cinema.

Making History

Regardless of the state of the theaters, the 2021 Oscar nominations have arrived, promising to honor this unique year of film just like any other. Overall, there is a very large spread of films that are represented in many of the categories.

At the top, “Mank” leads the pack with a stellar total of 10 nominations. Next up, there are six films taking up six nominations each, including “The Father,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Minari,” “Nomadland,” “Sound of Metal” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Rounding out with five nominations each, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Promising Young Woman” also join these ranks. Aside from “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” these films all represent the Best Picture nominees of this year.

This year, the Oscars also made history by triumphantly showcasing more diverse filmmaking than ever before. “Judas and the Black Messiah” became the first film to be nominated for Best Picture with an all-Black producing team. With Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) and Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”), the Oscars nominated more than one woman for best director for the very first time. Zhao, the clear frontrunner for Best Director, also became the first woman to have four Oscar nominations in one year. Additionally, Fennell became the first woman to be nominated for her directorial debut.

When it came to the actors’ branch, nine out of the 20 nominees were all people of color, making it the branch’s largest diverse representation yet. In particular, the lead actor category made strides with Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) and Steven Yeun (“Minari”), marking the first time two men of Asian heritage competed in the lead category together. Yeun also became the first Asian American to be nominated in the category, while Ahmed became the first Muslim to do so. Meanwhile, Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) became the most nominated Black actress in history.  


This year, most of the nominations were fairly predictable and expected, but there were some notable surprises. The biggest shock came with the inclusion of Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”) in the Best Director lineup. Vinterberg has been largely absent in the awards circuit for his international feature aside from his British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards nomination. 

Lakeith Stanfield (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) was also a surprise with his nomination in Best Supporting Actor, particularly since the studio has been campaigning him in the lead category. Stanfield joined his castmate Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) in the category. Additionally, Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) made the cut for Best Supporting Actress, despite the film being largely panned by critics. Quite ironically, Close’s performance has also garnered a Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actress this year.


Along with the surprises, this year’s Oscars definitely had its major snubs as well. Both “One Night in Miami…” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” were early locks for the Best Picture nominations but failed to make the cut. Additionally, Regina King (“One Night in Miami…”) was also snubbed from the Best Director lineup for her stellar directorial debut.

Even more so than King, famed writer-director Aaron Sorkin (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) was expected to earn his first directing nomination this year but was snubbed. After his emotional speech following his win at the Critics’ Choice Awards, many wished young star Alan Kim (“Minari”) would be nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but those hopes were not fruitful.

And perhaps, the most controversial snub was of Delroy Lindo (“Da 5 Bloods”) who gave the performance of his career in Spike Lee’s last film and was seen as an early frontrunner. Neither Lindo nor Lee’s film saw much love from the Academy.

In Review

While there are surprises and snubs every year at the Oscars, this year made a bold statement on inclusivity and diversity in Hollywood. Streaming studios also dominated the nomination lineup. Netflix led with 35 nominations, with Amazon and Apple also getting a fair share of nominations this year, signaling a changing landscape. There is no way to know what the future holds, but the Oscar 2021 winners will definitely be revealed later this year on April 25.

See the list of Oscar contenders in major categories below:

Best Picture

“The Father”

“Judas and the Black Messiah”




“Promising Young Woman”

“Sound of Metal”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Best Director

Thomas Vinterberg

David Fincher

Lee Isaac Chung

Chloé Zhao

Emerald Fennell

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Riz Ahmed

Chadwick Boseman

Anthony Hopkins

Gary Oldman

Steven Yeun

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Viola Davis

Andra Day

Vanessa Kirby

Frances McDormand

Carey Mulligan

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Sacha Baron Cohen

Daniel Kaluuya

Leslie Odom, Jr.

Paul Raci

Lakeith Stanfield

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Maria Bakalova

Glenn Close

Olivia Colman

Amanda Seyfried

Yuh-Jung Youn  

Best Original Screenplay

“Judas and the Black Messiah”


“Promising Young Woman”

“Sound of Metal”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Best Adapted Screenplay

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”

“The Father”


“One Night in Miami…”

“The White Tiger”