The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences isn’t exactly known for celebrating diversity.
But at the 2021 Oscars, several of the awards given out also marked wins for representation for women of color, both onscreen and behind the scenes. Read on to learn more about four historic moments from this year’s Academy Awards ceremony.
1. Chloe Zhao wins Best Director
It had already been an historic awards season for Zhao, after her headline-grabbing victory at the 2021 Golden Globes for her work at the helm of character-driven drama “Nomadland.” Now, Zhao is also the first woman of color to ever win the top directing prize (as well as only the second woman to garner the award in general). While accepting the award, Zhao struck a hopeful tone. “This is for anyone who had the faith and the courage to hold onto the goodness in themselves, and to hold onto the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that,” Zhao said during her acceptance speech. “Nomadland” also took home the Best Picture award and scored Frances McDormand a Best Actress win.
2. H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas win for Best Original Song
The field of nominees for this category was historic in and of itself, as this was the first year three Black women were considered for the honor. With their victory for the song “Fight for You,” which was featured in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” H.E.R. and Thomas are now only the second and third Black women to ever win this particular prize. H.E.R. used some of her speech to note that filmmakers and musicians alike “have an opportunity — and a responsibility — to tell the truth, and to write history the way that it was, and how it connects us to today” and the struggles people of color continue to face.
3. Mia Neal & Jamika Wilson win for Best Hair and Makeup
This is the first time in Academy Award history that the top honors for hair and makeup styling in film were given to Black women. “I want to say thank you to our ancestors, who put the work in, were denied but never gave up,” Neal said in her speech, before noting that she and Wilson broke a glass ceiling with their win. Because of that, she says, “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’s and Wilson’s work was featured in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a dramatic retelling of a 1920s recording session involving the blues singer.
4. Yuh-Jung Youn wins Best Supporting Actress
Youn’s win isn’t just historic among fellow supporting actress winners and nominees — she’s officially the first Korean person to win an acting award at the Oscars. While accepting the award, Youn said that in the past, she viewed the Oscars like a television show, rather than an awards ceremony, and seemed overwhelmed by being on the stage to receive an award herself. She won the Oscar for her performance in “Minari,” a film about a Korean-American family that moves to Arkansas.
(Featured Image Credit: Harold Neal, Flickr)