China native Chloe Zhao was named best director for ‘Nomadland,’ making her the first Asian woman and only the second woman ever to take home the trophy
"Nomadland," the story of van dwellers in America, won the best picture Oscar and two other Academy Awards on a triumphant night for women that also saw a return to Hollywood glamour after a long pandemic shutdown.
In a major upset, Britain's Anthony Hopkins won the best actor trophy for his role as a man battling dementia in "The Father." The Oscar had been widely expected to go to the late Chadwick Boseman for his final film, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."
China native Chloe Zhao was named best director for Searchlight Pictures' "Nomadland," making her the first Asian woman and only the second woman ever to take home the trophy. Kathryn Bigelow was the first in 2010.
Zhao thanked the nomadic community for "teaching us the power of resilience and hope and reminding us what true kindness looks like."
Frances McDormand, one of the few professionals in the film in which several people played versions of themselves, won her third Oscar.
Social distancing forced a rethink of the ceremony, moving it to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
After strict Covid-19 testing and quarantine protocols, nominees and their guests walked the red carpet, mostly maskless. They sat in a cabaret-style room inside the Mission Revival-style rail station or chatted in an outdoor courtyard.
The prospect of all four acting honours going to people of colour for the first time was not realized. But 15 women won a record 17 Oscars, the Film Academy said, including for sound ("Sound of Metal"), production design ("Mank"), original screenplay ("Promising Young Woman") and documentary feature ("My Octopus Teacher.")
The national reckoning about systemic racism in the United States was also a theme following the murder conviction last week of a white police officer who knelt on the neck of Black man George Floyd.
"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," said Regina King, who directed "One Night in Miami," about four black icons at the height of the 1960s civil rights movement.
Youn Yuh-jung, 73, won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role as a cantankerous grandmother in immigrant tale "Minari."
Youn, the first South Korean actor or actress to win an Oscar, joked about people mispronouncing her name.
"Tonight you are all forgiven," she said. "Me being here, I cannot believe it."
Ceremony held after turbulent year
The ceremony for the highest honors in the movie business took place after a turbulent year for the industry that shuttered production and movie theaters for months and saw studios delay the release of some blockbusters by more than a year.
"This was indeed a hard year for everyone, but our love for movies helped to get us through it," said presenter King, opening the ceremony, which had no host for the third straight year.
McDormand made a passionate plea for people to return to theaters.
"One day, very soon, take everyone you know into a theatre, shoulder to shoulder in that dark space, and watch every film that's represented here," she said.
Britain's Daniel Kaluuya was named best supporting actor for his role as 1960s Black Panther activist Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah."
The movie "Soul," the first from Disney's Pixar to feature a black lead character, won best animated feature, while Denmark's "Another Round" took the prize for best international feature.
The winners were chosen in a secret ballot by the 9,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.