What Makes the 2021 Academy Awards So Special?

'Nomadland'Credit: Searchlight
This was an epic year of firsts across the Academy Awards! 

I know you're probably getting tired of hearing about it, but 2020 was an unprecedented year. It was a time full of chaos and fear and worry—and somehow, despite all of this stuff, we got some amazing movies. 

One of the things that doesn't translate with just the list of nominations today is just what a landmark this year has been. So we took the time to read over the Academy fact list of this year's major achievements. 

Check them out below! 

Here Are All the Groundbreaking Achievements for the 2021 Academy Awards

  • The first time two women have been nominated for best director; Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell. 
  • The first time a woman of color was nominated for best director; Chloé Zhao. 
  • Seventy women received a total of 76 nominations, a record for a given year.
  • Chloé Zhao is the first woman to receive four nominations in a single year. Emerald Fennell becomes the third woman with three nominations in a single year, joining Sofia Coppola and Fran Walsh, who both accomplished that feat in 2003.
  • Emerald Fennell and Chloé Zhao become the sixth and seventh women to be nominated in the Directing category.
  • Fennell is the first woman to be nominated for her feature film directing debut. Previous women nominated for Directing are Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow, the only winner, and Greta Gerwig.
  • Frances McDormand becomes the third woman (after Barbra Streisand and Oprah Winfrey) and the 20th person to have both an acting and a Best Picture nomination, not necessarily for the same film.
  • Pete Docter’s fourth nomination is a record for the Animated Feature Film category, now entering its 20th year.
  • Mank becomes the seventh black-and-white film to be nominated for Costume Design and the 17th for Cinematography since separate categories for color and black-and-white films were merged in 1967. The last Costume Design nomination (and win) was for The Artist (2011); the last Cinematography nomination was for The Lighthouse (2019).
  • With its first nomination, Tunisia becomes the fifth country from the continent of Africa to be nominated for International Feature Film. The Man Who Sold His Skin is the 10th film nominated from the region. Previous nominations include five films from Algeria, two from South Africa, and one each from Ivory Coast and Mauritania.
  • Leslie Odom, Jr. is the fourth person (and first man) to receive acting and song nominations for the same film. Mary J. Blige was the first, with her nominations for Mudbound in 2017, followed by Lady Gaga with her nominations for A Star Is Born in 2018, and Cynthia Erivo with her nominations for Harriet in 2019. Barbra Streisand was the first person to receive nominations in both categories but for different films.
  • The first time a person of color received a posthumous nomination. Chadwick Boseman, who died on Aug. 28, 2020, is the seventh performer to receive a posthumous nomination. The others were James Dean (Actor, East of Eden, 1955, and Actor, Giant, 1956); Spencer Tracy (Actor, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967); Peter Finch, the first posthumous acting winner (Actor in a Leading Role, Network, 1976); Ralph Richardson (Actor in a Supporting Role, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, 1984); Massimo Troisi (Actor in a Leading Role, The Postman (Il Postino), 1995) and Heath Ledger, who was also a winner (Actor in a Supporting Role, The Dark Knight, 2008).

These are some landmark facts that show a more open and interesting Hollywood. It's one of the bright things to come out of 2020, and is hopefully indicative of an inclusive and determined Hollywood moving forward. 

Let us know what you think in the comments.      

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


The purpose of the awards WAS to promote the product by trying to emphasize quality in a range of professional roles.

The purpose of the awards NOW is to promote progressive ideology by trying to emphasize quotas in a range of professional roles.

This will not be of interest to most people and those who watch will grow to assume that the professional roles were given out with the same emphasis on quotas over quality.

March 16, 2021 at 12:53PM

Clint Johnson
DIT, Producer/Director

Or maybe... just maybe... POC are making some great films and are finally getting more opportunities to use and display their talents.

Chloé Zhao is on every major awards and film critics nomination, which pokes a few holes in your "participation trophy" theory.

March 17, 2021 at 2:55PM


When filmmakers are required to have representation and inclusion to even be considered, when people demand that the nominations HAVE to include diversity, when articles like this single out diversity and equity as the 1st through 10th criteria for being greenlit, produced, enjoyed, lauded, acclaimed, considered, nominated, or winning awards... you shouldn't expect people to believe that it did not factor into any decisions.

These may very well be the very best performances of the last year, but why would anyone believe that they were?

March 19, 2021 at 1:34AM

Clint Johnson
DIT, Producer/Director


March 18, 2021 at 6:53PM


I agree, the response to this new purpose was a collective yawn followed by a channel change.

March 23, 2021 at 1:59AM

Clint Johnson
DIT, Producer/Director