Story at a glance

  • The 2021 Oscars marked the most diverse set of nominations in its history.
  • Chloe Zhao took home best director, making her the first Asian woman, and the first woman of color, to win the award.
  • Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson were the first Black women to be nominated and to win best makeup and hairstyling.

In an unusual Oscars, a slow-moving night taking place in-person amid the coronavirus pandemic and marked by a more diverse set of nominations than in years past, a number of historic wins stood out.

Chloe Zhao made history as the first Asian woman, as well as the first woman of color, to win best director for her film “Nomadland.” She is also only the second woman to win best director, the first being Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for “The Hurt Locker.” 

Meanwhile, Yuh-Jung Youn won best supporting actress for her role in "Minari," marking her the first Korean actress to take home the award.


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The winners for best makeup and hairstyling — Mia Neal, Jamika Wilson and Sergio Lopez-Rivera — for their work on the film "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,” included Neal and Wilson as the first Black women to be nominated and to win the award. 

“I can picture Black trans women standing up here, and Asian sisters. And our Latina sisters, and Indigenous women. And I know that one day it won't be unusual or groundbreaking — it will just be normal,” Neal said in her acceptance speech.

The groundbreaking wins came among other historic nominations. Steven Yeun was the first Asian American to be nominated for best actor for his performance in “Minari,” alongside Riz Ahmed, who was the first Muslim to be nominated for the award for his work in “Sound of Metal.”

Both faced heavy competition, as the late Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in August 2020 from colon cancer, was heavily favored to win best actor for his portrayal of Levee Green in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.” However, in a stunning upset in the last award of the night, Anthony Hopkins, who wasn’t in attendance, beat out Boseman and took home best actor.

Both the historic wins and upset came during what was considered the most diverse Oscars. In recent years, a lack of representation of women and people of color had Oscar night taking place along with trending hashtags such as #OscarsSoMale and #OscarsSoWhite. 

In particular, the historic wins for Zhao and Youn come amid heightened tensions and attacks on Asian Americans nationwide, with a Pew Research Center survey finding that nearly one-third of Asian Americans fear being attacked.

In China, where Zhao was born, the Oscars weren’t streamed in Hong Kong for the first time in five decades as the Chinese government’s censorship has grown. State-run media outlets remained quiet, not reporting on Zhao’s historic win, and social media posts that made mention of it were taken down.

Last month, an eight-year-old interview resurfaced of Zhao referring to China as “a place where there are lies everywhere.”


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Published on Apr 26, 2021