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Oscars 2021: 'Nomadland' becomes the big winner of a historic night
References to racism and police violence were threaded throughout the show's speeches
It was the night of a lifetime for Chloe Zhao, as the 'Nomadland' director created history for being the first woman of colour and only the second woman in the 93-years Academy history to bag the Best Director trophy. Not only that, but the film also took home the biggest award of the night - Best Film. Frances McDorman also won the Oscar for Best Actress for the nomadic drama.
Zhao's drama about transient Americans roaming the West in vans is tipped to be one of the top winners overall on a night when Tinseltown A-listers are reuniting for the first time in more than a year.
"What a crazy, once-in-a-lifetime journey we went on together," said Zhao to her crew and cast, including the real-life "nomads" who played fictionalized versions of themselves in the movie and were in attendance in Los Angeles.
Anthony Hopkins won the best actor Oscar for 'The Father', in a turn to the early predictions by various analysts. Hopkins, won the award over posthumously nominated Chadwick Boseman, and the first Muslim actor to be nominated in the category - Riz Ahmed.
The unorthodox Oscars ceremony, which was moved from a Hollywood theater to a glammed-up downtown train station to abide by strict Covid-19 protocols, began with a movie-style opening credits sequence, as actor-director Regina King strode into the venue clutching a gold statuette.
Beijing-born Zhao's best director win makes her the first woman of colour ever honoured in the category, and the second female after Kathryn Bigelow, who broke the glass ceiling in 2010 when she won the prize for "The Hurt Locker."
With movie theaters closed all year, and blockbuster content delayed, Zhao's film captured the pandemic zeitgeist with its stunning portrait of the isolated margins of society and has swept most of the awards shows in the run-up to the Oscars.
The directing award was presented by last year's winner Bong Joon-ho, whose South Korean movie "Parasite" became the first film not in the English language to win best picture. He spoke from Seoul via videolink in Korean, with a translator, finishing with a few words in English.
But "Nomadland" lost out early in the gala for best adapted screenplay to "The Father," adapted from his own stage production by French playwright Florian Zeller, who added to the international flavour by accepting from Paris.
"Promising Young Woman," won best original screenplay, the night's first award.
Emerald Fennell, who was seven months pregnant when she shot the #MeToo revenge thriller, thanked her son who "did not arrive until a couple of weeks after shooting, thank God, because I was crossing my legs."
Fellow Brit Daniel Kaluuya won best supporting actor for his portrayal of slain 1960s Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah."
References to racism and police violence were threaded throughout the show's speeches, starting with King's opening comments, 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.
This year's 93rd 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.
The pre-show featured a performance of best song nominee "Husavik" from the tiny Icelandic port of the same name, complete with a choir of children singing in woolly sweaters and a backdrop of fishing boats. Other musical performances came from the Academy's new film museum.
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.
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!"