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‘Nomadland’ takes director Zhao places

Agence France-Presse Hollywood | Updated on April 26, 2021

Producers Frances McDormand and Chloe Zhao, hold the Oscar for Best Picture for ‘Nomadland’ as they pose in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday   -  Chris Pizzello

First non-white woman director to win the award

US road movie ‘Nomadland’ emerged the big winner at the Oscars on Sunday with three major prizes, including a history-making award for director Chloe Zhao, as Hollywood celebrated its most glamorous night with a unique pandemic-era gala.

Zhao's drama about marginalised Americans roaming the West in vans was honoured for best picture, director and actress for Frances McDormand, who now is in elite company with her third Academy Award for performing.

No-show Anthony Hopkins pulled an upset to win best actor in the final award of the night, besting sentimental favourite Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer last year.

Also read: The Oscars bring back red carpet glam in whites, reds, gold

The unorthodox Oscars ceremony was moved from a Hollywood theatre to a glammed-up downtown train station to abide by strict Covid-19 protocols, and reunited tinseltown A-listers for the first time in more than a year.

Zhao, who is the first woman of colour-ever honoured as best director, thanked "all the people we met on the road... for teaching us the power of resilience and hope, and for reminding us what true kindness looks like." She is also only the second woman to win best director after Kathryn Bigelow, who broke the glass ceiling in 2010 when she won the prize for ‘The Hurt Locker.’

“It's pretty fabulous to be a woman in 2021,” Zhao told journalists as at a virtual backstage Q&A, adding: "If this win means more people get to live their dreams, I'm extremely grateful."

With movie theatres closed all year, and blockbuster content delayed, Beijing-born Zhao's film captured the pandemic zeitgeist with its stunning portrait of the isolated margins of society.

"Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible. And one day very, very soon, take everyone you know into a theatre, shoulder to shoulder in that dark space, and watch every film that is represented here tonight," said McDormand.

Zhao, who has drawn controversy in China after years-old interviews resurfaced in which she appeared to criticize her country of birth, also quoted classical Chinese poetry in her acceptance speech.

But she was scrubbed from Chinese social media on Monday as a nationalist backlash airbrushed out her achievement, with recent posts containing her name and "Nomadland" mysteriously wiped from the Twitter-like site Weibo. Her win was also met with silence by Chinese media.

Hopkins' win at 83 for his shattering portrayal of a dementia sufferer in "The Father" makes him the oldest actor to win a competitive Oscar in history. But he did not travel to Los Angeles or a London venue to accept the prize, and his victory, with no speech, made for a strange ending to the night.

The film, adapted by French playwright Florian Zeller from his own stage production, also won best adapted screenplay. Zeller accepted his award from Paris.

'Marching boots'

Best supporting actress went to Youn Yuh-jung for the Korean immigrant drama ‘Minari’.

Daniel Kaluuya won in the best supporting actor category for his portrayal of slain 1960s Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’, which also won best song for multiple Grammy winner H.E.R.

References to racism and police violence were threaded throughout the show's speeches, starting with actor-director Regina King's opening monologue, in which she mentioned the conviction of a former police officer for the murder of African-American man George Floyd.

"If things had gone differently this past week in Minneapolis, I may have traded in my heels for marching boots," she said.

Emerald Fennell won best original screenplay for ‘Promising Young Woman’. Netflix's ‘Mank’ began the night with the most nominations-10- but ended up with two wins in technical categories, as did ‘Ma Rainey's Black Bottom’ and Amazon's ‘Sound of Metal’. "Soul" became Pixar's latest Oscar winner for best animated feature, and also picked up best score, while South African aquatic wildlife feature "My Octopus Teacher" won best documentary.

This year's Oscars arrived at their Union Station venue two months late due to the pandemic -- organizers have said it would have been "impossible" without the delay.

Before the show, stars paused briefly for pictures and socially distanced interviews on what organizers called a "teeny-tiny red carpet," where actresses Carey Mulligan and Andra Day dazzled fashion fans in Oscars gold.

An honorary award for the Motion Picture and Television Fund, which has supported struggling actors and crew particularly during the pandemic, was awarded at the Oscars' traditional Hollywood theatre base. Black entertainment mogul Tyler Perry was also honoured.

But the bulk of the awards were handed out at the 1930s-built Union Station, chosen for its grand scale and outdoor courtyards, where white tents sheltering everything from Covid testing booths to catering were installed.

"We're here, isn't it crazy?" said best actor nominee and "Sound of Metal" star Riz Ahmed. "Human beings in the flesh!"

Published on April 26, 2021

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