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How The 2021 Oscar Nominations Just Made History

The 2021 Oscar nominations are out, and they've made history in several huge ways.

Hollywood power couple Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra Jonas announced this year's Oscar nominees on the morning of March 15, 2021, and as usual, the list contained plenty of shocking snubs and huge surprises. In the wake of a controversial awards season — recently, the Golden Globes drew ire when they snubbed works by creators of color, leading to a revelation that the show's voting body has no Black members — the Academy has made history in several categories, marking a huge sea change for the organization.

All of these history-making changes are an enormous step for the Academy, proving that its new rules, announced in September of 2020, are helping the voting body become more inclusive and open-minded when it comes to Oscar nominations. From record-breaking achievements for individual performers to wider representation in the Directing category to other huge firsts, here's all the ways that the 2021 Oscar nominations made history.

The Oscar nominations made history for Black films and performers

Despite the fact that several predominantly — and critically acclaimed — films created by and starring Black artists, including Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods, were left out of the 2021 nominations, the Academy also honored and rewarded Black movies and performers in this group of nominations. Thanks to her powerful performance as the title role in George C. Wolfe's August Wilson adaptation Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which hit Netflix in December of 2020, Viola Davis set a new record for Black actresses and became the most-nominated Black actress in the history of the Academy. Her late co-star, Chadwick Boseman, earned a Best Actor nomination, and is widely expected to win a posthumous award for his role as Ma Rainey's trumpeter Levee. Thanks to Ma Rainey, Davis, who won her first Oscar in 2018 for Fences, has made history with her fourth nomination.

Beyond Davis' groundbreaking fourth nomination, Shaka King's Black Panthers biopic Judas and the Black Messiah became the first ever Best Picture nominee with entirely Black producers; alongside King, Charles D. King and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler produced the movie. Judas and the Black Messiah, which is streaming on HBO Max now, also scored nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and nods for stars Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield in the Supporting Actor category.

Women are making waves in this year's Directing category at the Academy Awards

For pretty much the entire history of the Academy, the Directing category has belonged almost exclusively to male artists, with female directors frequently shut out completely. Whenever a woman does score a nomination, it always feels unlikely that she'll actually win, especially considering that Kathryn Bigelow remains the only woman to win in the category, beating out stiff competition with her war film The Hurt Locker in 2010. However, this year could be different; for the first time in the Academy's history, two women have emerged from the fray to score Directing nominations. Before this year, only five women had even been nominated, with Greta Gerwig as the most recent nominee for her 2018 directorial debut Lady Bird.

Alongside David Fincher (Mank), Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round), and Lee Isaac Chung (Minari), Emerald Fennell and Chloé Zhao earned Directing nods for their films Promising Young Woman and Nomadland, respectively. Promising Young Woman was Fennell's directorial debut, and Zhao has already made history by becoming the first woman of color to be nominated in the Directing category — and their films also earned nods for Best Picture. After becoming the first Asian woman to win for directing at the Golden Globes, Zhao is widely considered the frontrunner, and Nomadland may well be the film to beat for Best Picture.

The Best Actor category made history in several different ways

Meanwhile, when it comes to the Best Actor category, three different nominees made history in drastically distinct ways. Alongside previous winner Gary Oldman (Mank) and the late Chadwick Boseman — who appears to be the frontrunner for his final film performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom — Anthony Hopkins (The Father), Steven Yeun (Minari), and Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) achieved historic firsts for a variety of reasons.

Walking Dead alum Yeun, who stars in the Best Picture nominee Minari, became the first Asian-American to break through in the category, while Hopkins is now the oldest Best Actor nominee in history at age 83 (though Christopher Plummer still holds the record for oldest nominee overall thanks to his nod for All the Money in the World at 88 years old). This marks Hopkins' sixth nomination throughout his career.

As for Riz Ahmed, this boundary-breaking actor — in 2017, he became the first Muslim and Asian actor to win an Emmy in a leading acting category for the miniseries The Night Ofis now the first Muslim actor to be nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars. He follows in the lead of Mahershala Ali, who became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar in 2017 for Moonlight before winning again in 2019 for Green Book.

This year's Oscar ceremony will be broadcast on April 25, 2021 on ABC.