Few events are as exciting or significant to a film writer as the Oscars. Normally, the event offers the chance to meet with talented actors and filmmakers during a celebration of some of the year’s biggest films. Yet in a year filled with delays and accommodations, it’s no surprise that things didn’t quite look the same at this year’s Academy Awards. The typical January date, along with the usual timeline for eligible films, was postponed by three months. The setting was, for lack of a better word, intimate: Rather than inviting all of Hollywood’s elite, the ceremony was made up of nominees, presenters and plus-ones only, held in Los Angeles’s Union Station with nominees clustered around small tables, as well as satellite locations around the world. The event was regulated by COVID-19 protocols determined by a team of epidemiologists (most of whom Oscars producer Steven Soderbergh had met during the creation of his film “Contagion”). And, unlike in normal years, press were not allowed into the in-person backstage area, but instead brought into a Zoom meeting — Michigan Daily writers newly amongst them.
Despite Zoom snafus and awkward silences, being at this year’s Academy Awards was an incredible chance to view the inner workings of the Academy and the press — an experience that we truly appreciated and enjoyed. For one thing, watching a live feed of the event without being subjected to ads was nice; for another, it was an honor to be present for some of the inspiring words from winners that only the press got to hear and cherish. So even as we were frantically switching between the ceremony and the “backstage” interviews — truly, catching the tail end of Glenn Close shaking her booty while switching back from an interview about production design was unexpected — it was certainly an experience to remember. Here are some of our favorite moments from the night. For a full list of winners, click here.
Recognizing those who are giving back in Hollywood
The Academy awarded two Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Awards this year, with one going to the Motion Picture and Television Fund and another to Hollywood superstar Tyler Perry. MPTF and Perry join the likes of Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn and Oprah Winfrey as the 40th and 41st winners of the award, which is named for a Danish-born actor, philanthropist and one-time MPTF president. MPTF, a mutual aid organization for the entertainment industry, is celebrating its 100th year in 2021. MPTF also operates a number of health and senior centers in Los Angeles exclusively for those in the industry. The award was accepted by Bob Beitcher, current president and CEO of MPTF, who said in his remarks, “We really and truly take care of our own.”
Tyler Perry, the producer, director and star of the “Madea” films, was awarded for his philanthropic work, which includes picking up seniors’ grocery bills, paying Rayshard Brooks’ funeral expenses and opening Camp Quarantine to keep Tyler Perry Studios employees working during the pandemic. Perry gave a moving acceptance speech, encouraging his audience to “refuse hate.” He said that he is dedicating the award to those who “stand in the middle,” adding, “that’s where healing happens. That’s where conversation happens. That’s where change happens.”
Everything’s Coming Up Nomadland
Nomadland was the most awarded film at this year’s Oscars, winning in three of its six nominated categories, including Best Picture. Critics and bettors were fairly certain that Nomadland would win, and The Daily predicted it too. There’s something about that sweeping yet subtle narrative and grand imagery of the American landscape that was sure to win the hearts of the Academy’s voters. Frances McDormand produced and starred in Nomadland, so she took the stage twice, also winning for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
At the end of the group Best Picture acceptance speech, McDormand paid tribute by howling at the moon to Nomadland production sound mixer Michael Wolf Snyder, who recently died at age 35. Chloé Zhao won the Oscar for Best Directing as the second woman and first woman of color recognized with this award. In her remarks, she dedicated the win to “anyone who had the faith and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves, and to hold on to the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that.” Speaking to the press backstage, Zhao’s message was clear: “It’s pretty fabulous to be a woman in 2021.”
Daniel Kaluuya’s charm and passion
After winning Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” Daniel Kaluuya’s acceptance speech touched on many different topics with breathless excitement. He shouted out costar LaKeith Stanfield (who was also nominated in the category) and praised the Black Panther Party for their work in the Black community: “They showed us (the) power of union, the power of unity, that when they play divide and conquer, we say unite and ascend.” He finished his speech with a candid and now viral declaration of his conception, but more delightful were the words that came after: “So I’m so happy to be alive, so I’m going to celebrate that tonight, do you know what I’m saying?”
There’s no denying that the man is charismatic. Backstage, the charm only continued as he talked to the press. He spoke more about the influence of Fred Hampton and the positive impact that “Judas” will hopefully have on those who watch it: “The fact that I continue to stand on this stage is because of what he did. I think it’s just that, that the legacy will continue. It will continue, and people will want to engage with the story and the film and the man.” His passion for the story and the role was palpable and really wonderful to see. During an event after the main ceremony, Kaluuya said it frankly: “I just do work I believe in.” Kaluuya’s personality and positivity made him a particularly bright spot in this year’s event.
Every word Youn Yuh-jung said
As the crass, convivial grandmother Soon-ja in “Minari,” Youn Yuh-jung never failed to switch between laugh-out-loud wit and heartwarming sentiments with ease. At Sunday’s Academy Awards, she did the same, accepting the award for Best Supporting Actress with humility and humor alike. She opened her speech on a light note: “As you know, I’m from Korea and actually my name is Yuh-jung Youn, and most of European people call me Yuh-Youn and some of them call me Yuh-jung. But tonight, you are all forgiven.” Her joking forgiveness was accompanied by a lovely thank you to “Minari” director Lee Isaac Chung and the other “Minari” actors: “We became a family,” she said.
In the media center, Youn didn’t stop providing some of the best responses of the night. When answering a question about the importance of new stories, Youn spoke about the need to tell stories without the need to delineate and categorize people. “Even (a) rainbow has seven colors,” she said, following up this beautiful sentiment with another: “We have the same warm heart … It’s an opportunity for us to share in the story together.”
After a long and successful career in Korea, it was gratifying to watch Youn receive recognition for her performance, but it was even more wonderful to watch her charmingly and humbly work her way through press questions. At one point she joked that she blacked out for a moment when presenter Brad Pitt called her name for the award. “I’m still not myself,” she told us with a smile. “So don’t ask me too many questions, please.”
Anthony Hopkins and Chadwick Boseman
There were many unusual aspects of this year’s Oscars, from its small crowd to its limited choice in films to nominate, but these strange circumstances didn’t mean that these Oscars were all that surprising. The sweep for “Nomadland” was expected, with the exception of Best Actress in a Leading Role, which really could have gone to anyone. The one surprise that the Oscars held, the one upset that people will be talking about for years to come, was Sir Anthony Hopkins’s win in the Actor in a Leading Role category. It’s not that his performance was weak or undeserving by any means; in fact, many believed he was most worthy of the win. It was just surprising that Chadwick Boseman (may he rest in peace) didn’t win the posthumous Academy Award everyone thought he would.
Whether Chadwick Boseman was more deserving of the Best Actor win than Anthony Hopkins is up for debate; the events of the night just made the whole thing more confusing. When the Best Picture award was presented prior to the Best Actress and Best Actor award, most people assumed that the Academy was saving Best Actor for last to have some sort of tribute for Boseman. Instead, a shocked audience heard Hopkins’s name called … and the night was over. Having expected to lose in his category, Anthony Hopkins didn’t attend the show on Sunday, choosing to stay at home amidst the pandemic and what he believed to be a sure loss. The lackluster ending to Hollywood’s biggest night seemed fitting for the year Hollywood has had. With so many film releases put on hold and so much chaos in the entertainment industry over the past year or so, to have the Oscars end with no Best Actor speech and a major controversy in the category actually seemed right, in a very strange, very wrong way. Here’s hoping the 94th Academy Awards fare better than this year’s.
Some of our other favorite quotes from this year’s Oscars:
After being asked what his next project would be after “Soul”’s success, Peter Docter responded very emphatically: “Sleep. A lot of sleep.”
“I have had a group dinner with Kathryn Bigelow, and definitely fangirled big time,” Chloé Zhao admitted, revealing that she did have a connection to the only other female Best Director award winner.
“To begin with, (“Another Round”) was a celebration of alcohol,” Thomas Vinterberg stated, which fits the film’s title.
Emerald Fennell confessed that the making of “Promising Young Woman” stemmed from her hope “to make something … that people would want to go and see even if it’s about something difficult and troubling … and you would talk about it afterwards.”
For Pippa Erhlich, “My Octopus Teacher” provided a “unique opportunity to tell a story about love and respect and awe between human beings and the natural world.”
“Oh, there’s absolutely going to be an EGOT in my future hopefully,” H.E.R. confidently disclosed after winning an Oscar on Sunday night along with her Grammy earlier on in the year.
50 years into her career, Yuh-jung Youn announced, “I don’t believe in competition, especially in our field, because we are comparing different movie(s), different war(s).”
Thrilled with her win in the Makeup and Hairstyling category, Mia Neal summarized her feelings about the night: “Listen. I never got married. I didn’t go to prom. (This is it) all rolled up in one.”
Tyler Perry’s mother was with him during his winner’s speech; later on in the night, he said, “I could feel (my mother) in the moment (of my speech). I could feel her. Any time I’m up there, I’m carrying her with me in all she went through and all we went through together.”
A final note
Though the film industry has faced many challenges in the pandemic, the decision to invite press to the Oscars via Zoom actually made the event more inclusive. The Academy was able to welcome 400+ individual press members from a giant range of outlets to join their “Virtual Media Center.” Although we had sent in our applications earlier this month, we had no idea that we would actually be accepted. This accreditation offered us the first chance in The Daily’s history to watch the Oscars not just as viewers, but as press.