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Many Firsts Are Among The Oscar Nominations This Year

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There were a lot of firsts in the nominations this morning for the 93rd Academy Awards. It's the first time movies that never played in theaters on the big screen were eligible for best picture. It's also the first time two women, Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell, were nominated for best director in the same year. And it is the first time a Muslim actor, Riz Ahmed, was nominated in a leading acting category. And yet, there were, of course, a lot of familiar names, perhaps none more familiar to the members of the Academy than that of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter of "Citizen Kane." A biopic about Mank led the nominations, earning 10 of them. For more on the Oscar nominations, we're joined now by Aisha Harris, co-host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast.

Hey, Aisha.

AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: Hey there. Thank you for having me.

CHANG: All right. Can we just start with "Mank"? I mean, 10 nominations - could we be actually seeing a streaming service - in this case, Netflix - get its first best picture Oscar, you think?

HARRIS: I think it's definitely possible. I think that this movie is one of those that was kind of expected to get as many nominations as it did just because the Academy loves to honor movies that are about making movies, about the celebration of movies. And this is exactly like that. It has shades of "Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood," "La La Land," other films that were recently nominated for best picture.

CHANG: Well, I want to talk about another film that earned quite a few nominations - six, in fact. This is the Korean American film "Minari." It was this really moving film about immigrant parents trying to adapt to life in the Ozarks. Most of the dialogue was in Korean. I spoke with the film's director, Lee Isaac Chung, last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LEE ISAAC CHUNG: I wasn't necessarily seeking to refute any one dream or even this idea of the American dream that we have, but more speak into the feeling that we have these days of maybe waking up from a dream.

CHANG: So Aisha, what's your sense of "Minari's" chances this year at the Academy Awards?

HARRIS: You know, I think it's really gratifying to see "Minari" in the best picture category to begin with. There was a lot of controversy around the Golden Globes nominations because it was sort of relegated to the foreign language category at the Golden Globes, and it won for that. But by being in that category, it was also shut out of the best picture category. And so because this is a movie, while, yes, much of it is in Korean, it is still very much an American film. And it is a story of, you know, the American dream, but in a different way than what we're used to seeing. And it's also great to just see Steven Yeun nominated for best actor.

CHANG: Well, Steven Yeun will have some competition in the best actor category not just from Riz Ahmed in "Sound Of Metal," but also from Gary Oldman in "Mank," Anthony Hopkins in "The Father" and, of course, the late Chadwick Boseman for his role in the August Wilson adaptation "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM")

CHADWICK BOSEMAN: (As Levee Green) I know how to handle white folks. I've been handling them for 32 years. Now you're going to tell me how to do it. Just 'cause I say yes sir don't mean I'm spooked up by him. I know what I'm doing.

HARRIS: Chadwick Boseman is just really, really fantastic in this role. He's playing Levee, who's this trumpeter in a band who clashes with Viola Davis's Ma Rainey. And it seems like he's very much a shoo-in for the award at this point. He's won many of the biggest awards so far, and I think it'll have just as much to do with how powerful that performance is, if not more, than about the fact that this is the Academy's last chance to actually honor this really brilliant performer who we lost too soon.

CHANG: That is NPR's Aisha Harris.

Thank you so much, Aisha.

HARRIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.