The 93rd Academy Awards were unlike any other we’ve witnessed in recent memory — or possibly ever before — as the ceremony was structured to accommodate social distancing measures brought about by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The result was an unusually intimate, subdued ceremony filled with personal anecdotes and touching tributes. Of course, that doesn’t mean things didn’t get a little wacky from time to time (“Glenn Close doin’ Da Butt” is officially a thing now), and there were still plenty of larger-than-life moments, from incredible musical performances and tear-filled dedications to laugh-out-loud one-liners and groundbreaking milestones.
Things started with a bang, as H.E.R. performed an amazing rendition of her Oscar-winning song “Fight For You” before the ceremony started and Regina King kicked off the festivities by entering Los Angeles’ iconic Union Station in a stunning single tracking shot as the credits rolled. From there, we got tear-filled dedications, inspirational speeches, laugh-out-loud one-liners, and groundbreaking milestones. Read on for the biggest moments of the 2021 Oscars.
Those expecting to see the much hyped-up pre-recorded performances of this year’s Best Song nominees during the show were likely disappointed to learn that the five songs were actually shown during ABC’s pre-show. The standout performance was also the final performance: H.E.R.’s rousing rendition of “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah, which incorporated archival footage and a battery of dancers to deliver a chills-inducing moment just minutes before the start of the ceremony. The song went on to win Best Original Song in the ceremony proper.
We were told in the lead-up to tonight’s ceremony that Steven Soderbergh and his co-producers wanted the night to play out like a film – and the first minutes of the broadcast delivered on that promise. Bringing to mind those famous opening moments of Goodfellas, a single camera shot tracked Regina King – her Oscar firmly in hand – as she walked into LA’s Union Station, through its cavernous hall, and onto the stage. Throughout the entire shot, cinematic credits announced the various presenters (“starring…”). King kicked things off by marking the conviction of Derek Chauvin earlier this week: “Now, I know that a lot of you people at home wanna reach for your remote when you feel like Hollywood is preaching to you, but as a mother of a Black son, I know the fear that so many live with, and no amount of fame or fortune changes that, OK?”
Upon winning the Oscar for Best International Film for Another Round, director Thomas Vinterberg began his acceptance speech as anyone might expect, thanking the appropriate parties who supported the film and those with whom he worked directly on it, including the four main actors at the heart of the story. But midway through his speech, Vinterberg recounted how, four days into shooting the film, he lost his daughter Ida in a tragic auto accident. As he paused and wiped tears from his face, Vinterberg collected himself and explained how she had read the script two months prior to production and was “glowing with excitement” about the film, in which she was originally supposed to appear. Vinterberg closed by dedicating the film to Ida, saying, “If anyone dares to believe that she’s here with us somehow, you’ll be able to see her clapping and cheering with us… Ida, this is a miracle that just happened, and you are part of this miracle. Maybe you’ve been pulling some strings somewhere; I don’t know. But this one is for you.”
After missing out on the Best Actor Oscar back in 2018, Daniel Kaluuya became the sixth Black actor to win Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards on Sunday night. Speaking off the cuff, Kaluuya thanked the usual folks and gushed about his collaborators while his mother and sister, both in attendance at LA’s Union Station, looked on. As he wound up his acceptance speech with some inspirational words about Fred Hampton, the iconic Black Panther leader he portrayed in Judas and the Black Messiah, Kaluuya finished by sneaking in a cheeky line: “We gotta celebrate life, man. We’re breathing, we’re walking. It’s incredible… My mom and my dad, they had sex. It’s amazing!” Cut to Kaluuya’s sister burying her face in her hands and his mother, confused at what she’d just heard, mouthing, “What is he talking about?” Daniel, you rascal, you.
The team behind the hair and makeup for Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom already made history before Sunday night, with Mia Nel and Jameika Wilson the first Black women to be nominated in the category. Their win now makes them the first Black women to win for the category; their colleague, Sergio Lopez-Rivera, became the first Hispanic/Latino person to win for Makeup and Hairstyling. Accepting the award, Neal said, “I can picture Black trans women standing up here. And Asian sisters. And our Latina sisters. And indigenous women… I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking, it will just be normal.”
Chloé Zhao made history on Sunday night as the first Asian woman to win Best Director at the Oscars, which was fittingly announced by last year’s winner, Bong Joon-ho, who narrated a thoughtful introduction to the category featuring quotes from all the Best Director nominees. But Zhao also gave arguably the most poignant, inspiring speech of the evening, explaining how she motivates herself to keep going when things become difficult. She recounted her childhood in China, when she and her father would recite classic Chinese poems and try to finish each other’s sentences. The poem she holds most dear begins, “People at birth are inherently good,” and Zhao continued on to describe how that philosophy has influenced her throughout her life. She finished by holding her statuette and saying, “This is for anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves, and to hold on to the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that.” Amen to that.
Korean actress Yuh-jung Youn, who steals much of the moving family drama Minari as an unconventional grandmother, almost stole the whole night with her historic win for Best Supporting Actress. Not only did the win make Youn the first South Korean woman to take out the category – and only the second Asian woman, after Miyoshi Umeki in 1957 – but the veteran accepted the honor in style, with a speech that had the room – and social media – in stitches. In just a few minutes, she flirted with Brad Pitt, who’d handed her the statuette; forgave everyone in Hollywood who’d mispronounced her name; and revealed she doesn’t believe in competition and only won the award over competition like Glenn Close, because “I’m luckier than you.” She finished by thanking her sons, because… they were the reason she had to go out and work.
Late in the evening, right after H.E.R. received the Academy Award for Best Song, the Oscar program took an unexpected, unprecedented detour to play something of a parlor game hosted by the night’s DJ, Questlove. Lil Rel Howery grabbed a microphone and wandered through the audience looking for willing participants who were asked to guess whether a song played by Questlove was a previous Oscar nominee, Oscar winner, or neither. After engaging Best Actress nominee Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday) and Best Supporting Actor winner Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah), Howery approached Best Actress nominee Glenn Close as Questlove spun the 1988 E.U. hit “Da Butt,” featured in Spike Lee’s School Daze, quipping “That’s not fair to Glenn Close. She don’t know nothing about doin’ ‘Da Butt.'” Of course, Close immediately responded not only with the correct song title, but who sang it, where they were from, and what movie it was featured in, noting that “my friends at the Oscars missed it, and it wasn’t nominated.” The capper, though? With some encouragement from Howery, Close stood up from her booth, proceeded to do Da Butt, and immediately set social media afire. Whether or not the whole stunt was scripted — or, to some, unbelievably cringey — it was one of the few spirited moments to be found in an otherwise quiet, intimate night.
What were your biggest highlights of the night? Tell us in the comments.