Chloé Zhao made Oscar history Sunday evening by becoming the first woman of color to win the Academy Award for best director for “Nomadland,” which is also a heavy favorite to win the prize for best picture.
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I keep going when things get hard,” Zhao told the sparse crowd at downtown’s Union Station, where the 93rd Oscars were moved in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “And I think it goes back to something I learned when i was a kid. … My dad and I used to play this game We would memorize classic Chinese poems and texts and we would recite it together and try to finish each other’s sentences. And there is one I remember so dearly, it’s called the Three Character Classics. And the first phrase goes … `people at birth are inherently good.’
“And those six letters had such a great impact on me when I was a kid, and I still truly believe that today, even though sometimes it might seem like the opposite is true,” she said. “I have always found goodness in the people I’ve met everywhere I went in the world. This is for anyone who had the faith and the courage to hold onto the goodness in themselves and to hold onto the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that. This is for you. You inspired me to keep going.”
Daniel Kaluuya, meanwhile, earned his first Oscar for his supporting role in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” portraying Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. He thanked Warner Bros. for making the film, noting, “It’s so hard to make a film, and make film about a man like this, and they made it happen.”
He also dedicated the award to Hampton himself.
“To Chairman Fred Hampton, bro. Man. Man. What a man. What a man,” he said. “How blessed we are to have lived in a lifetime where he existed. Thank you for your light. He was on this Earth for 21 years, 21 years and he found a way to feed kids breakfast, educate kids, give free medical care.
“… There’s so much work to do guys, and that’s on everyone in this room,” he said. “It’s no single-man job. I look to every single one of you.”
Emerald Fennell took the prize for best original screenplay for the revenge drama “Promising Young Woman.”
“This film was made by the most incredible people in the world who made it in 23 days and brought that genius and love and humor to it,” Fennell said.
Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller won for best adapted screenplay for “The Father.” Zeller praised his collaborator on the film, and said he wrote the script specifically with star Anthony Hopkins in mind, saying, “To me, he’s the greatest living actor.”
He thanked Hopkins for bringing “your energy, your grace and your talent” to the film.
“Sharing that journey with you was the most amazing experience of my life,” he said.
Hampton, asked backstage whether the moment felt surreal, said, “Yes, particularly in these circumstances, since we’re in different countries … with masks on. It’s unlike any other kind of Oscars ceremony I would imagine there’s ever been. It is strange, but great.”
The Denmark film “Another Round” was named best international film, and director Thomas Vinterberg gave an emotional acceptance speech, dedicating the award to his daughter Ida, who was killed in a traffic collision four days into shooting.
“We wanted to make a film that celebrates life, and four days into shooting, the improbable happened. An accident on the freeway took my daughter away,” he said through tears. “… We miss her and I love her.
“We ended up making this movie for her as her monument. So Ida, this is a miracle that just happened. And you’re a part of this miracle. … This one’s for you.”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” picked up a pair of early technical awards — makeup and hairstyling for Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson; and costume design for Ann Roth.
The prize for live-action short went to Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe for “Two Distant Strangers,” while the award for animated short went to Will McCormack and Michael Govier for “If Anything Happens I Love You.”
The Pixar film “Soul” was named best animated feature film.
“This film started as a love letter to jazz, but we had no idea how much jazz would teach us about life,” co-director Pete Docter said.
Thanks to COVID-19, the ceremony had a decidedly different look. Gone was the star-studded audience at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. The ceremony instead originated largely from Union Station, with nominees sitting at individual tables in front of a circular stage.
Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decreed that the show would not be held in any way by Zoom, some international performers unable to travel appeared on the show from remote overseas locations.
There was no host, with show producers saying they wanted the ceremony to be an homage to movies and movie-making. Instead of “presenters,” the Academy announced what it called “an ensemble cast” starring in the show.
While the actual ceremony started at 5 p.m., the televised festivities began at 3:30 p.m. with a 90-minute pre-ceremony telecast special titled “Oscars: Into the Spotlight.” That show, hosted by actor Lil Rey Howery and actress Ariana DeBose, featured the traditional performances of the five nominees for best original song.
One of the original song performances — “Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” performed by Molly Sandén — was recorded in Husavik, Iceland. The other four were recorded at the Dolby Family Terrace at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
H.E.R. performed her nominated song “Fight For You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Celeste and Daniel Pemberton performed “Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” while Leslie Odom Jr. performed “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami” and Diane Warren and Laura Pausini performed “Io Si (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se).”
The ceremony will then be followed by another telecast titled “Oscars: After Dark” hosted by actors Colman Domingo and Andrew Rannells. That telecast will spotlight the evening’s winners and highlights.