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Preview: 2021 Oscars promises to be new and more diverse

This year’s Academy Awards features a diverse field of nominees and a novel approach to the live broadcast.

By Soren Blomquist Eggerling, Staff Writer

Steven Yeun is nominated for best actor in the 93rd Academy Awards for his role in "Minari." (Photo Courtesy of A24)

Right down the street from the recently closed Cinerama Dome, the 93rd annual Academy Awards will be held this Sunday. Or, at least, a part of it will be.

This year’s festivities will be split between the traditional Dolby Theater on Hollywood Boulevard and Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles, as well as a number of satellite locations worldwide. Producers Jesse Collins, Stacy Sher and Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh have promised a show unlike any other in Academy history.

“You’ll feel like you’re watching a movie,” Soderbergh said during a press conference, referring to his plans to turn the Oscars into a more cinematic experience. The broadcasted video will be more widescreen and the music will be DJed by the show’s musical director Questlove, whose band The Roots has prerecorded most of the score he will play. Even the presenters this year are referred to as the ensemble cast.

Masks will not be required on-camera, but attendees will don them during commercial breaks — as well as when they are periodically rotated out of the main audience — which has a 170-person capacity. The show’s producers have emphasized creating a sense of community while meeting safety requirements.

“We want you to feel like it wasn’t a show made by an institution,” Soderbergh impressed. “We want you to feel like you’re watching a show that was made by a small group of people that really attacked everything that feels generic or unnecessary or insincere.”

This year’s crop of nominees is as unique as the show promises to be. Two of the five nominees for best director are women, with Chloe Zhao becoming the first woman of color nominated in the category. Zhao is also the first woman to ever be nominated in four categories (best picture, director, film editing and adapted screenplay).

The best actor nominees are also particularly diverse. Steven Yeun is the first Asian American nominated for the award, and Riz Ahmed is the first person of Pakistani descent to receive a nomination in any of the acting categories. It is the first year in Oscars history that the field is not majority white, according to Variety.

Black people are also better represented than in previous years with a number of historic firsts – three of the five men vying for best supporting actor are Black, Mia Nikel and Jamika Wilson of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” are the first Black women to be nominated for best makeup and hairstyling, and the all-Black producing team of “Judas and the Black Messiah” are the first to be up for best picture.

“There are still voices missing,” cautioned Stacy L. Smith of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. She commended the Academy’s improvements while stressing that there is room for improvement. “We will continue to watch the nominations to ensure that a year of ‘firsts’ does not become a year of ‘only.’”

“Nomadland” and “Minari” are the frontrunners for the coveted best picture award in a field full of Oscar newcomers and movies from streaming titans like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

“Mank,” which secured more nominations (10) than any other film this year, only had 18 percent awareness in a survey conducted by entertainment researcher Guts + Data. It is a troubling sign for this year’s broadcast, especially given how poorly awards shows have performed during the pandemic. Ratings for the Grammys fell by 53 percent this year, while the Golden Globes had an even more precipitous drop of over 60 percent, according to the New York Times.

For Soderbergh and his co-producers, the show must go on. And in his eyes, this year’s show will be special.

“The cliché when you go into to [sic] pitch a movie is to say it’s about hope and scope,” Soderbergh said. “That is kind of what we want to do, to show what’s possible.”

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