The Oscars made history with a diverse list of nominees

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Gina Vivinetto
·4 min read
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The 2021 Oscar nominations have made history in many ways. This year's nominations in acting categories are the most diverse ever — and that's only just the start.

A record-breaking nine actors of color earned Oscar nods on Monday, with "Minari" star Steven Yeun becoming the first Asian American ever nominated for best actor. The 37-year-old actor was born in South Korea and later moved with his parents to the U.S.

In the same category, British actor Riz Ahmed, 38, nominated for his performance in “Sound of Metal," became the first person of Pakistani descent and the first Muslim nominated for best actor.

It's the first time in Oscar history that two men of Asian descent are up for the best actor award during the same year.

Related: The nominees for the 93rd Academy Awards, honoring the best in film, were announced Monday morning.

Before now, only two actors of Asian heritage have ever been nominated in the best actor category, and neither of them were American. Russian-born Yul Brynner, who was of Mongol descent, was nominated and won for "The King and I,” and English actor Ben Kingsley, who is half Indian, was nominated and won for “Gandhi," and later nominated again for “House of Sand and Fog."

Ahmed, who plays a rock drummer and recovering heroin addict struggling with hearing loss in "Sound of Metal," told The New York Times on Monday that he understood why his and Yeun's nominations are "meaningful to other people."

"I just think the more and more people that can find themselves celebrated and included in these moments, the better. That’s what storytelling is about. It’s about trying to stretch our idea of who we are," said Ahmed. "And when we celebrate a wider range of stories, and a wider range of storytellers, it can help more and more people to find themselves in our culture. And that’s really a positive thing."

Meanwhile, Yeun and Ahmed are competing against two other history-making nominees in the best actor category, which for the first time this year isn't made up of a white majority.

The late Chadwick Boseman earned his first Oscar nomination for "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." The actor, who died in August 2020 of colon cancer at just 43, became one of only eight performers who've earned an Academy Award nomination posthumously, and the first Black actor to do so.

Related: The late actor was nominated for "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

And, Anthony Hopkins, 83, became the oldest nominee for best actor thanks to his nomination this year for "The Father." If the veteran Welsh actor, who won an Oscar 29 years ago for "The Silence of the Lambs," wins this year's award, he will become the oldest acting winner in any category.

Hopkins thanked Florian Zeller, director of "The Father," on Instagram "for trusting this old man and for the magnificent opportunity to work with you and your outstanding cast."

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The best actor category isn't the only one bursting with history-making nominees in 2021.

In the best supporting actress category, Yeun’s “Minari” co-star Yuh-Jung Youn, 73, became the first Korean person ever nominated for an acting Oscar.

Viola Davis made Oscar history when she scored her fourth Oscar nomination on Monday. The 55-year-old actor, nominated for best actress for her performance as legendary blues music pioneer Ma Rainey in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," became the most nominated Black female actor ever, and the only Black woman to ever earn two best actress nominations.

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Davis celebrated the milestone on Twitter, writing, "Absolutely thrilled!! Congratulations to the whole @MaRaineyFilm team! Deserved!"

Other actors of color nominated for Oscars this year include Andra Day ("The United States vs. Billie Holiday") for best actress, and LaKeith Stanfield ("Judas and the Black Messiah"), Daniel Kaluuya ("Judas and the Black Messiah") and Leslie Odom Jr. ("One Night in Miami..."), who were all nominated in the best supporting actor category.

This year's history-making nominees weren't limited to acting categories.

Filmmaker Chloé Zhao has become the first Chinese woman and the first woman of color to be nominated for best director for her film "Nomadland." Zhao, who grew up in Beijing, was also nominated for her screenplay and for editing, and "Nomadland" is also up for best picture.

Only five other women have been nominated in the best director category: Lina Wertmüller (“Seven Beauties”), Jane Campion (“The Piano”), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) and Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”). Only Bigelow went on to win the award, in 2010.

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