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Chloé Zhao Makes History as the First Woman of Color to Win an Oscar for Best Director

It was an unsurprisingly strange night at the Oscars, with a production team tasked with shaking things up and succeeding in a variety of ways — some more deliberate than others. Still, victories are victories and Sunday’s ceremony had some significant ones. First and foremost, Chloé Zhao’s wonderful portrait of independent wanderers Nomadland took home the evening’s top prizes for Best Picture and Best Director. It was the first time a woman of color has won Best Director at the Oscars, and just the second time a woman had won in that category of all.

“This is for anyone who has the faith and courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves and to hold onto the goodness in each other,” Zhao said in her acceptance speech. Zhao’s got another movie out later this year with Marvel’s Eternals.

That was a great Oscar moment, but not everything landed quite as neatly and in one case, Oscar voters chose violence. Best Actor was almost universally expected to go to the late Chadwick Boseman for his magnetic, final performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The ceremony even scheduled the acting award announcements after Best Picture for the first time in Oscar history, presumably to send the show out on a somber, poignant note with Boseman’s widow Taylor Simone Ledward on hand to accept on his behalf. But in a surprise upset, Anthony Hopkins won for his role in The Father. 

Hopkins was magnificent in The Father and upsets happen all the time at the Oscars, so nothing against him at all. His gracious acceptance speech posted from his homeland in Wales on Monday morning included a tribute to Boseman and noted his surprise at winning the award, which is about all he could say. But it was a miscalculation of historic proportions on the part of the ceremony’s producers to schedule the show around an emotional final moment that did not end up happening.

In a tweet, Ma Rainey producer Franklin Leonard said that he was “Honestly not even stressed about Chadwick not winning, because I know Chadwick wouldn’t have been stressed about not winning.

Elsewhere, Frances McDormand took home Best Actress for her Nomadland role. Daniel Kaluuya and Yuh-Jung Youn nabbed Best Supporting awards for their roles in Judas and the Black Messiah and Minari respectively. Pixar’s Soul took home the Best Animated Feature award, which also netted a Best Score win for Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste. Imagine going back to 1999 and telling Nine Inch Nails-heads that Reznor was gonna win an Oscar for the work he did with the Toy Story team.

Both Kaluuya and Youn nailed their acceptance speeches with two of the nights more memorable (for the right ways) moments. Kaluuya ended his speech by thanking his parents for the, uh, bedroom antics that led his existence (Kaluuya’s mom was in the audience and reacted about like any mom would). And 73-year-old South Korean actress Youn accepted her award from presenter and Minari executive producer Brad Pitt, and did not hesitate to shoot her shot. “Mr. Pitt, finally!” Youn said, wryly. “Nice to meet you.”

We’ve hosted a few conversations with some of Sunday’s winners and nominees. Check out our chats with Minari director Lee Isaac ChungSoul filmmaker Pete Docter and the Judas and the Black Messiah duo Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield to hear more about their creative journeys.

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