Oscars 2021: why the 93rd Academy Awards was a night of historic firsts

Four of this year's winners broke records or made history

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And just like that, the most unusual awards season in living memory has come to a close. The Oscars rounded off 2021's batch of honours with a scaled-down ceremony in Los Angeles on Sunday evening.

While the room was certainly more sparse than in Oscars gone by, there were still plenty of A-list faces to bring the glamour on the night, with Glenn Close, Reese Witherspoon, Amanda Seyfried, Brad Pitt, Renee Zellweger, Regina King and Carey Mulligan all on hand to deliver the Academy Awards’ famous star power.

Taking home three trophies, Nomadland owned the evening, much as it did the rest of awards season. The film won Best Picture, as well as Best Director for Chloe Zhao and Best Actress for Frances McDormand.

Producers Frances McDormand and Chloe Zhao, hold the Oscar for Best Picture for "Nomadland" as they pose in the press room at the Oscars on April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles.  McDormand also won for Actress in a Leading Role for "Nomadland" and Chloe Zhao wond Directing for "Nomadland" - 
 / AFP / POOL / Chris Pizzello
Frances McDormand and Chloe Zhao hold the Oscar for Best Picture for 'Nomadland'. AFP

Zhao's Best Director win makes her only the second woman to win the award, after Kathryn Bigelow's 2010 victory for The Hurt Locker. In the process, Chinese-born Zhao also became the first woman of colour to take home the honour.

Accepting the award at the Union Station ceremony, Zhao paid tribute to a poem she learnt thanks to her father.

"When I was growing up in China, my dad and I would play this game. We would memorise classic poems and text and try to finish each other's sentences," she said, revealing one translated as: "People at birth are inherently good."

"I have always found goodness in the people I met,"  she said. "This [award] is for anyone who has the faith and courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves."

Mank, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Sound of Metal, Soul, Judas and the Black Messiah and The Father all won two awards apiece.

Anthony Hopkins won Best Actor for his portrayal of a dementia patient in The Father. But the Welsh star was not in attendance on the night. Instead, after the actor beat Riz Ahmed and Chadwick Boseman for the trophy, a simple portrait appeared on screen, as last year's winner Joaquin Phoenix said: "The Academy congratulates Anthony Hopkins and accepts the Oscar on his behalf."

At 83, Hopkins is now the oldest-ever winner of an Academy Award in the acting categories, usurping Christopher Plummer, who previously held the title for his 2011 Best Supporting Actor win for Beginners at the age of 82.

In a video shared by Hopkins on Monday morning, the actor said he didn't expect to win the award at all. "I want to pay tribute to Chadwick Boseman who's taken from us far too early," he said.

Daniel Kaluuya won his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, becoming the first black British person to win the category.

Daniel Kaluuya accepts the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role during the live ABC Telecast of The 93rd Oscars in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 25, 2021. Todd Wawrychuk/A.M.P.A.S./Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO MARKETING OR ADVERTISING IS PERMITTED WITHOUT THE PRIOR CONSENT OF A.M.P.A.S AND MUST BE DISTRIBUTED AS SUCH. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Daniel Kaluuya accepts the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for 'Judas and the Black Messiah'. Reuters

“To chairman Fred Hampton,” Kaluuya said in his acceptance speech, paying tribute to the Black Panther Party activist he portrays in the film. “What a man. How blessed we are that we lived in a lifetime where he existed.”

Speaking of Hampton's legacy, he said: "There's so much work to do. That's on everyone in this room."

The Best Supporting Actress award went to South Korean star Youn Yuh-jung, who also set the stage alight with a charming acceptance speech.

Youn, 73, picked up the statuette for her performance in Minari, making history in the process.

She is the first Korean acting-category winner in the history of the Academy Awards, as well as the second woman of Asian descent to win the trophy. The first, Japanese-American actress and singer Miyoshi Umeki, won for Sayonara in 1958.

After Youn's name was announced by presenter Brad Pitt, the actress paid tribute to the Se7en actor as she took to the stage.

epa09160825 Brad Pitt (R) poses with Youn Yuh-jung, winner of the award for best actress in a supporting role for 'Minari,' in the press room at the 93rd annual Academy Awards ceremony at Union Station in Los Angeles, California, USA, 25 April 2021. The Oscars are presented for outstanding individual or collective efforts in filmmaking in 24 categories. The Oscars happen two months later than originally planned, due to the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on cinema.  EPA/Chris Pizzello / POOL *** Local Caption *** 55864152
Brad Pitt poses with Youn Yuh-jung, winner of the award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for 'Minari'.EPA

"Mr Brad Pitt, finally, nice to meet you!” she exclaimed, drawing laughs from her peers. "Where were you when we were filming?"

Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson also made history on the night, becoming the first black women to win an Oscar for Makeup and Hairstyling for their work on Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

“I stand here, as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling, with so much excitement for the future,” Neal said as she collected her Oscar.

One of the evening's more moving moments came courtesy of director Thomas Vinterberg, who got emotional as he accepted the award for Best International Feature Film for Another Round, using the moment to pay tribute to his
daughter, Ida, 19, who died when he was only days into production on the film, in which she was meant to have a starring role. She was killed in a road accident, after being hit by a driver who was on their phone.

"She was supposed to be in this and if anyone dares to believe that she's here with us somehow, you'd be able to see her clapping and cheering with us," Vinterberg said in his speech.

"We ended up making this movie for her – as her monument. So, Ida, this is a miracle that just happened, and you're a part of this miracle – maybe even pulling some strings somewhere. But this one is for you."

While the lack of live entertainment, paired with no set host and a scaled-down audience, did mean the ceremony was not quite as exciting as in years gone by. But what it lacked in entertainment it made up for in historical moments, with many firsts being made and one of the Academy's more diverse batch of winners.

See the full list of Oscar winners here, and catch up with The National’s live coverage from the ceremony.