8 Incredible Wins for Diversity at the 2021 Oscars
The 93rd annual Academy Awards featured wins for diversity both on and off the screen.
The 93rd annual Academy Awards ceremony was meaningful for many reasons. Featuring a maskless and socially distanced audience, the ceremony offered a glimpse of normalcy a year after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the most impactful part of the 2021 Oscars was the celebration of diversity, found in the award nominees and winners.
The Academy Awards has continually been called out for its lack of diversity, snubbing actors and films that celebrate different perspectives and voices. Sunday night’s awards ceremony represented a further shift toward inclusion — from how the ceremony is structured to the celebration of historic awards winners — as more people recognize the importance of representation.
The past year has witnessed worldwide protests and an intense focus on social justice issues as the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to pay attention to long held, racist structures that must be reformed. It also highlighted the tragedy of ignorance and hate, as people of Asian descent have had to contend with a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes spurred by racist rhetoric.
While the film industry and awards ceremonies must take further strides at promoting diverse voices and perspectives, Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony took another step in the right direction.
To celebrate the historic wins for diversity after a year of tragedy and heartbreak, here is a list of eight incredible wins from the 2021 Oscars ceremony:
1. Chloé Zhao is the first woman of color (and second woman ever) to win Best Director.
Chinese film director Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color to win the Best Director award on Sunday night for the film Nomadland, according to CNN. Only five women have been nominated for the award, and Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.
During her acceptance speech, Zhao recited the first phrase from the 13th-century Chinese text Three Character Classic, which translates into, “People at birth are inherently good.”
“I have always found goodness in the people I met, everywhere I went in the world,” Zhao continued. “So this is for anyone who has the faith and 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.”
2. Yuh-jung Youn became the first Korean actor to win an Academy Award.
Yuh-jung Youn is a Korean actress who starred in the 2020 film Minari, which follows a Korean American family that moves to Arkansas. Youn won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first Korean actor to ever win an Academy Award.
Youn has worked in film and television for several decades, starring in over 40 South Korean television shows and films. Despite her stardom, Youn spoke about how people commonly mispronounce her name during her acceptance speech Sunday night.
“My name is Yuh-jung Youn and most European people call me Yuh-Youn and some of them call me Yu-Jung,” she said, according to CNN. “But tonight, you are all forgiven!”
3. The Sound of Metal won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Film Editing and for Best Sound.
The Sound of Metal follows the story of an American drummer who suddenly loses his hearing. The film won Oscars for Best Achievement in Film Editing and for Best Sound for its groundbreaking aural landscape, in which the film crafted an environment that was inclusive for both the hearing and Deaf communities.
According to CNN, director Darius Marder pitched the film to the editor Mikkel Nielsen as a movie “where Deaf people see the film as a whole," and "a hearing person [feels] like the minority." For Deaf people whose experiences are rarely captured on film, nor presented in an accessible way, The Sound of Metal can encourage the film industry to pursue more inclusive film practices.
4. Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson are the first Black winners in Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, who worked on the 2020 Netflix film Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, became the first Black people to win in the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category of the Oscars on Sunday night, sharing the award with makeup artist Sergio Lopez-Rivera.
Neal, who was the head of the hair department for the film, used the acceptance speech to talk about the future of the Academy Awards.
“I stand here, as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling, with so much excitement for the future,” she said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “Because 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."
5. Travon Free became the first Black winner in the Best Live-Action Short category.
Travon Free, who wrote and directed the short film Two Distant Strangers, won the Oscar for Best Live-Action Short along with co-director Martin Desmond Roe, becoming the first Black winner in that category.
During his speech, Free called attention to the police killings of primarily Black and brown people in the United States.
“James Baldwin once said the most despicable thing a person can be is indifferent to other people's pain,” Free said. “So I just ask that you please not be indifferent, please don't be indifferent to our pain.”
6. South Korean film director Bong Joon Ho presented the award for Best Director in Korean.
Bong Joon Ho made history at the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony, taking home four Oscars for his film Parasite. During his acceptance speech for Best Foreign Language Film, the South Korean film director famously spoke to viewers about paying attention to international films, despite a language barrier that may exist.
“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” he said.
This year, Ho presented the award for Best Director in Korean, according to People, with an English translation provided by Sharon Choi.
7. H.E.R. won an Oscar for Best Original Song.
🎉 CONGRATS to @HERMusicx for winning Best Original Song at the #Oscars! Who else is excited to see her perform at #VaxLive on May 8?! Find out how you can watch 👉 https://t.co/Iewtr4dZjQhttps://t.co/NjQvaCwbcT— Global Citizen (@GlblCtzn) April 26, 2021
Twenty-three-year-old singer and songwriter H.E.R. won the Oscar for Best Original Song for “Fight for You,” from Judas and the Black Messiah, according to Pitchfork. The film explores racial injustice and civil rights, and “Fight for You” was celebrated for its culturally relevant themes that connect to the film and contribute to today’s continual conversation surrounding these themes.
When accepting her award, H.E.R. spoke directly about today’s fight for justice and equity, and the responsibility she feels to use her platform to engage with and promote social justice.
“Musicians, filmmakers, I believe we have an opportunity and responsibility, to me, to tell the truth and to write history the way that it was and how it connects us to today and what we see going on in the world today," she said.
8. Marlee Matlin presented the two documentary categories in American Sign Language (ASL).
American actress and deaf activist Marlee Matlin wowed viewers on Sunday night when presenting the two documentary categories in ASL.
This year’s ceremony featured an ASL interpreter for this first time, according to the Hollywood Reporter, prompting viewers to wonder if an ASL interpreter will become commonplace at the awards ceremony.
Institutions like the Academy Awards are entrenched in structural racism, but have become increasingly more inclusive over the years to reflect the diverse viewership and perspectives that make up the media industry.
As it works to correct barriers that have long prevented people of color and those from marginalized communities from achieving equal participation, this year’s Oscars ceremony should be celebrated for the areas where diversity is being honored to encourage the trend until — as Mia Neal said in her speech — it is just normal.