Entertainment ceremonies are becoming a lot less popular, whether this is because of social media and our instantaneous access to updates that swerve the majority of television watchers from sitting down for a two-hour tune in to get the same information, or simply because, generally, people have more interesting things to think about than celebrities—who knows. Either way, we’re in the dregs of a COVID-19 global pandemic, and the 2021 Oscar ceremony, understandably, hit differently, but not in ways that you might expect. Here’s why.
For one thing, the location was switched from the two decade long host Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, to the Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Yes, a train station, which is of much more relevance than you might think—I’ll get into why later on. To start with the obvious reasons: Zoom simply doesn’t cut it when it comes to the biggest Hollywood event of the year. The organisers had already pushed the award ceremony from its usual February slot to 25 April, which was yesterday, because the show must apparently go on.
Lights, camera and action were quite literally what this particular event was all about, and more than usual, because the entire thing was organised and staged like the films that were being presented themselves. Masks were to be taken off while cameras were rolling, and immediately put back on when they weren’t. The LA Times reported that the ceremony was run “like a train station, with attendees rotating in and out of the ceremony according to a carefully timed itinerary that will be given to them upon arrival in order to limit the number of people gathered at one time.”
Although attendees were instructed to waltz around maskless to create the illusion of a virus-less world, some refused.
According to Harper’s Baazar, Oscar producers also wrote a letter to nominees in March, saying “We are treating the event as an active movie set, with specially designed testing cadences to ensure up-to-the-minute results, including an on-site COVID safety team with PCR testing capability.” The guest list was obviously smaller, much smaller, than usual. From the usual 3,000 attendees, only 170 people cracked nod.
The fact that those 170 people were even able to attend was largely thanks to the COVID-19 vaccinations that they were required to have. Regina King explained all of the ceremony’s safety protocols in her opening speech, she informed the audience that everybody attending the ceremony was required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, and were tested on multiple occasions to make sure they were negative.
Director Steven Soderbergh was handed the unenviable assignment of producing the Oscars (alongside Jesse Collins and Stacey Sher) this year—he is known for his quick cutting of his films, and it showed. Speeches were uninterrupted and the schedule was inflexible. For the most part, the ceremony was quiet, low key and serious, reflecting many of the films that were being honoured.
The order of the awards was also changed considerably, with best director, usually the near to last prize, being given out early. Nomadland‘s Chloe Zhao took it, becoming only the second woman ever to do so, and the first of colour. Frances McDormand was named best actress for the film, which is the third time she has won the award. The film studio Searchlight Pictures in turn won its fourth best picture prize in eight years for Nomadland. When McDormand accepted her prize, she said “We give this one to our wolf,” in reference to Michael Wolf Snyder, a sound mixer that worked on the production who took his own life in March 2021. She unleashed an unbridled wolf howl too, which even I wanted to join in on.
Zhao was nominated in four categories: picture, directing, editing and adapted screenplay. Her next project is Marvel’s Eternals, which is due to be heading into theatres this November 2021. Another woman was nominated for the best director award this year, which was a first ever: Emerald Fennell made her feature debut with Promising Young Woman. Fennell has previously been known to star in front of the camera, but that has all changed. The film was shot in just 23 days while she was heavily pregnant, too. She thanked her family, including her young son, “who did not arrive until a couple of weeks after shooting, thank God, because I was crossing my legs the whole way through.”
The acting categories, which have long been (rightfully) criticised for their lack of diversity in identity as well as experiences, shone differently too. Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday), Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami…) and Lakeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah) are among the nine performers of colour recognised for their work this year.
Yuh-Jung Youn became the first South Korean actress to win an Oscar, for her role as the grandmother in Korean-American family drama Minari, beating Olivia Colman, Amanda Seyfried, Maria Bakalova and Glenn Close to the prize for best supporting actress. Despite this, Youn told the crowd that she “doesn’t believe in competition” and paid tribute to her fellow nominee by asking “How can I win over Glenn Close?”
This year has challenged every single one of us, and sometimes, in harrowing ways, important issues are pressing boiling points with no forward way except change. Many of the films produced reflect this too. James Reed won best documentary feature for My Octopus Teacher, and Martin Desmond Roe won best live action short for Two Distant Strangers, which addresses the police killings of black people in the US.
To sum up an enormous conversation: the Oscars of 2021 have truthfully opened the floodgates to change in so many ways. The COVID-19 global pandemic has left the world with a lot to think about, and the entertainment industry, which was heavily relied on for distraction from the present day, obviously has a long way to go still. Problems were finally faced, and evidently, if the industry wants to survive, it shall have to learn to cater to an entirely different, more inclusive and demanding audience.
Today, Thursday 22 April, is also known as Earth Day 2021—a day to take action, learn more about the state of our planet, and read listicles on five ways to help save it. While there’s nothing wrong with trying to have an impact in the fight to protect our environment—on the contrary, we’re the first to delve into topics such as climate fear and low carbon travelling, among many others—we also understand that sometimes, the best way to get involved is to watch a poignant and eye-opening documentary. That’s why, to celebrate this year’s Earth Day, we listed 15 must-watch documentaries on nature and climate change based on the top fan ratings on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.
If you didn’t expect this little gem to rank first, then I don’t know what to tell you. David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet is the best nature documentary according to IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes fans, with an impressive average rating of 9.3 out of a possible 10. Known for voicing environmental issues throughout the decades, the British natural historian Sir David Attenborough shares his concerns about humanity’s harmful impacts on nature and his hopes for the future of our planet. Available on Netflix.
Also narrated by broadcasting veteran Sir David Attenborough, Netflix’s first nature documentary series Our Planet and Africa come in joint second place with an average rating of 9.2 out of 10. Both series focus on wildlife and habitats, with Our Planet also revealing the impacts of climate change in species and ecosystems.
Kiss the Ground claims third place with an average rating of 9.1 out of 10. Narrated by Woody Harrelson and featuring celebrities such as Gisele Bündchen, Tom Brady and Patricia Arquette, the film turns the spotlight on regenerative agriculture and the potential benefits of this alternative farming on our fight against climate change.
A follow-up to the 2001 award-winning show The Blue Planet, this natural history series sees Sir David Attenborough (yes, again) return as narrator and host. A breathtaking exploration of the world’s vast oceans, its hour-long episodes capture animals and other living organisms in their natural habitat—presenting viewers with a fascinating insight into what life is like underwater. From tropical seas to the harsh conditions of the Arctic, the makers of Blue Planet II use modern filming equipment and techniques to shine a light on areas of the planet that humans have never seen before.
“A distinctive and memorable tale of how a filmmaker formed an unusual friendship with an octopus that taught him more about life than he expected. It’s a movie that’s unabashedly sentimental but also thoroughly entertaining and educational,” reads a Rotten Tomatoes review.
This documentary film directed by Orlando von Einsiedel and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio is not for the faint of heart. Expect some crying, like a lot of it. Virunga tells the story of four characters fighting to protect Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to the world’s last mountain gorillas, from war, poaching, and the threat of oil exploration. Truly heartbreaking.
As soon as this Netflix documentary about the environmental impact of fishing directed by and starring British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi premiered on the streaming platform in March, it garnered immediate attention in several countries. If you enjoyed the award-winning 2014 film Cowspiracy, then you’ll want to watch Seaspiracy.
Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. Divers, photographers and scientists set out on an ocean adventure to discover why the reefs are disappearing and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world. You get the idea, that’s a classic.
Racing Extinction is a documentary about the ongoing Anthropogenic mass extinction of species and the efforts from scientists, activists and journalists to document it by Oscar-winning director Louie Psihoyos, who also directed the documentary The Cove (2009). Don’t freak out, but those scientists believe we have entered the sixth major extinction event in Earth’s history.
This one follows Doctor Sylvia Earle on her quest trying to protect the ocean from threats as pollution, overfishing and climate change.
When he discovers the world’s oceans brimming with plastic waste, a documentary filmmaker investigates the pollution’s environmental impacts.
Leonardo DiCaprio meets with scientists, activists and world leaders to discuss the dangers of climate change and its possible solutions. Martin Scorsese is also an executive producer.
Ivory remains a prized status symbol for middle-class Chinese, and poachers in pursuit of white gold are slaughtering African elephants in record numbers. This documentary’s filmmakers went undercover for 16 months, infiltrating and documenting the deep-rooted corruption at the heart of the global ivory trafficking crisis.
Directed by Elliot Page and Ian Daniel, There’s Something In The Water comes towards the bottom of the list with an average rating of 7.45 out of 10. The Canadian documentary sheds light on the little known issue of environmental racism suffered by the black Canadian and First Nations communities in Nova Scotia (Canada). Still a must watch!
Last but no less important is the documentary RiverBlue in 15th place with an average rating of 6.45 out of 10. The film explores the paddler and conservationist Mark Angelo’s river journey around the world that uncovered the pollution impacts that the global fashion industry has on our planet.