Diversity at the Oscars, 2021

The 93rd Academy Awards took place on the 25th of April, and it graced the stage once again as a vehicle of heterogeneity. Last year, the Academy surprised us all when Parasite, a South Korean movie directed by Bong Joon-Ho, won Best Picture (among three other awards). Much to general approval, they pulled a similar stunt of diversity this year by granting an Oscar to each of two notable people of foreign background.

The first was Chloe Zhao, the first woman of color to win an Oscar for Best Director. Her movie, Nomadland, also won Best Picture, and its lead character, played by the critically acclaimed Frances McDormand, Best Actress. The New York Times puts it nicely: “[McDormand] hits the road in Chloé Zhao’s intimate, expansive portrait of itinerant lives.” The film revolves around “a woman in her sixties who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.” Most consider it a heartwarming piece that stays true to its roots; in fact, with the exception of McDormand and David Strathairn, the entire cast is made up of real nomads who really wander the United States.

Zhao’s victory at the Oscars seems even more impressive when you take into consideration that she’s fairly new to the game. It shows that it was skill and hard work, not some arbitrary factor like race, sex, or social prestige, that carried her over the finish line. Disney recognized her talent even before the Academy did; after a single pitch, she was given the rights to make The Eternals, which stars Kit Harington and Angelina Jolie and is set to release on November 5, 2021.

The second individual who defied the odds was South Korean actress Youn Yu-Jung, who won Best Supporting Actress for her role as the supportive grandmother in Minari, a piece of realistic fiction that released just last February. It’s about “a Korean American family [that] moves to an Arkansas farm in search of its own American dream. Amidst the challenges of this new life in the strange and rugged Ozarks, they discover the undeniable resilience of family and what really makes a home.”

Youn is largely thought to be one of the best actresses in her home country. It’s certainly nice to know that the world is starting to take notice.

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