Ma Rainey Viola Davis Oscars

Viola Davis in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’. Image: Netflix

Five surprise takeaways from the Oscars nominations

The Oscar nominations on Monday 15 March anointed ‘Mank’ as this season’s leader, and saved multiple nods for other widely tipped frontrunners such as ‘Nomadland’ and ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’.

Ma Rainey Viola Davis Oscars

Viola Davis in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’. Image: Netflix

But there were plenty of surprises and records among the Academy’s picks, from diversity landmarks to the venue itself.

Here are five takeaways from the Academy Award nominations announcement:

1. Who’s the lead?  

It is a debate that has plagued movie sets since the Oscars began — which A-lister is billed as the lead actor, and which must swallow their pride and settle for “supporting”?

Bizarrely, for Judas and the Black Messiah, it would seem neither actor is the star.

Both Globe-winning Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield were nominated as best supporting actor for their portrayals of black civil rights activist Fred Hampton and FBI informant William O’Neall.

Unlike other ceremonies, the Oscars place actors in the category for which they receive the most votes.

“Only Oscar voters could watch a film about two black men and decide both must be supporting characters,” tweeted the Telegraph’s film critic Robbie Collin.

2. #OscarsSoDiverse?  

Despite years of #OscarsSoWhite criticism, Monday’s nominations saw multiple diversity landmarks set.

Steven Yuen became the first Asian-American nominated as best actor for Minari, and will compete against Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) — the first Pakistani-origin star nominated.

Viola Davis became the most nominated black actress ever, landing her fourth nod for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

She will compete against Andra Day in The United States vs Billie Holiday — the first time two black women have featured in the category.

In total, a record nine actors of color were nominated across the four acting categories.

But there were snubs for Ma Rainey and One Night in Miami — two acclaimed films featuring all-black casts and directors — in the coveted Oscar for best picture nominations. 

3. ‘Live from Platform 8…’

Before the nominations even got under way, Academy president David Rubin dropped the news that Oscars night will be split between Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre — and a train station.

Details are still thin on the ground, but the enormous Union Station in downtown Los Angeles will allow for plenty of social distancing among stars, seeming to indicate a more “in-person” approach to the prizegiving compared with the mainly virtual Golden Globes and Emmys.

The announcement came just nine hours after the well-received Grammys, which saw many of the music industry’s top names attend and perform at the socially distanced gala in Los Angeles.

4. 36th time lucky

Romanian cinema has a long history of being snubbed by the Academy.

It had doggedly submitted 35 previous movies for the Oscars, without securing a single nomination — until Monday.

Shocking corruption documentary Collective not only ended the Eastern European nation’s long barren streak with a best international film nod, but added a rare second for best documentary.

Tunisia also landed its first ever Oscars pick with The Man Who Sold His Skin, at a relatively economical seventh time of trying.

Both will have to see off presumed frontrunner Another Round, the Danish dark comedy about drinking that also earned Thomas Vinterberg a directing nomination.

5. ‘Promising Young Woman’  

At the other end of the spectrum, Oscars recognition came startlingly fast for 35-year-old British director Emerald Fennell.

She became the first woman ever nominated for directing her debut film, with Promising Young Woman.

The #MeToo thriller about a revenge-seeker feigning drunkenness at bars to prey on misogynist men ended up with five nominations, also including best picture. 

“FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU….” wrote Fennell following the announcement — adding: “Never going to stop crying.”

By Andrew Marszal © Agence France-Presse