The 2021 Academy Award nominations have been unleashed upon the world, and like every year, people have strong feelings.
Before we dive in, though, let’s make one thing clear: The Oscars are a remarkably flawed way to bestow value on good storytelling. Snubs and surprises don’t—or, at least, shouldn’t—designate much about the inherent quality of a film. What the Academy Awards are is a fascinating finger on the pulse of power in Hollywood, and how that power gets divvied up in unequal and often jarring ways. So while shifting trends and deserving nominees are worth celebrating, it’s important to remember none of these announcements take place in a vacuum. It might be the first year more than one woman was nominated for Best Director—and the first year a woman of color was nominated in that category, ever—but that still means it took nearly a century to happen. That history isn’t evaporating overnight.
With that in mind, let’s talk snubs and surprises.
Snub: Regina King is not nominated for directing One Night in Miami.
Case in point: While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might finally feel comfortable nominating two women for Best Director, it seems they’re not yet ready to consider three. King, whose acclaimed time in the director’s seat for One Night in Miami positioned her as a shoo-in for Best Director, did not receive a the nod this year.
Surprise: Steven Yeun becomes the first Asian American actor to be nominated for Best Actor.
The surprise here is not that Yeun earned a nomination for his breathtaking turn in Minari, but more that he’s the first Asian American actor to be nominated in the category, ever. When an awards show has been around since 1929 and is still regularly celebrating “firsts,” that should tell you something about the validity of the awards themselves. Still, this is a moment worth applauding for Yeun, whose work in Minari is nothing short of transfixing.
Snub: Never Rarely Sometimes Always gets no love.
The critically adored, Eliza Hittman-directed drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always is not a shocking snub given its coasting under the radar for much of awards season, but that doesn’t make the lack of recognition less frustrating. Especially when the topic—abortion access, or lack thereof—is perhaps more polarizing and essential than ever.
Surprise: Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
The recognition is fabulous. The category is…bizarre. Both Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, stars of Judas and the Black Messiah, earned nods, but were slotted into the Best Supporting Actor category rather than Best Actor. This is puzzling for a number of reasons, but namely because it begs the question: If they’re both supporting actors, who on earth was the lead of Judas?
Snub: Delroy Lindo does not earn a nomination for Da 5 Bloods.
Spike Lee’s stunning Da 5 Bloods was almost universally cut out of Oscar consideration this year, short a Best Original Score nod. But perhaps one of the most egregious snubs throughout this awards season has been the lack of recognition for Delroy Lindo. His performance as Paul, one of the five “Bloods” who make up a group of Black U.S. Army soldiers during the Vietnam War, was consistently praised by critics, and even landed him a Critics’ Choice Award. But it didn’t garner enough attention to get him the Oscar gold.
Surprise: Jodie Foster’s Golden Globes win sputters.
Golden Globes wins usually signal good news for an actor or actress’s prospects at the Academy Awards, but this year, Jodie Foster’s spotlight dimmed and burnt out. After she won the supporting-actress Globe for her performance in The Mauritanian, the acclaimed but low-profile movie could seemingly do no more for her.
Snub: Dick Johnson Is Dead is ignored.
The Documentary Feature category seemed the slot where many of the morning’s surprises took place. Both Boys State and Dick Johnson is Dead, two of the most acclaimed documentaries of the year, were knocked out of awards contention. Johnson’s absence is particularly egregious, given its popularity among doc enthusiasts. Still, it’s a surprise in and of itself that one of the most controversial categories in this year’s Academy Awards nominations was Best Documentary. What that says about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—and its shifting priorities—remains to be seen.
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