The 2021 Oscars Were Smaller (& More Personal) Than Ever

kaluuya hero

Hollywood's 'biggest night' looked very different this year (mostly because it wasn't really all that big).

Due to COVID-19 guidelines, the 93rd Academy Awards were primarily held at the famous Union Station in downtown Los Angeles instead of their usual home at the Dolby Theatre. Meanwhile the guest list was limited to 170 invitees, who were rotated in and out of the main venue.

While the ceremony was considerably stripped back (and took place two months after its usual February slot), it also felt very different as a viewer. Last year, the Oscars ceremony hit an all-time low in terms of viewership, and questions of the Academy's relevance were brought into question.

Following a uniquely strange year, the stakes were high for the Oscars, and in a pleasant turn of events, this year's ceremony felt more intimate than ever.

The Academy has been frequently criticized when it comes to the diversity of its nominees, with campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite highlighting years of inertia and whitewashing at the ceremony. However, this year featured some monumental wins, with Youn Yuh-jung becoming the first South Korean actress to win a Supporting Actress Award and Chloe Zhao becoming only the second woman (and first woman of color) to ever win the Best Director prize.

But, it wasn't just that the ceremony seemed far more representative than it has in the past, but it also felt more personal. While the multi-hour broadcast typically includes long video montages and elaborate set designs, the 2021 event was much more subdued. When winners went up to accept their golden statuettes, no one was cut off with blaring orchestral music. Instead, winners were able to offer anecdotes and individual stories.

Youn Yuh-jung gave a moving speech where she said that she never believed she would ever stand on the Oscars stage. She also joked that she started acting because her kids told her she needed to work. "Mommy worked hard for this!" she said. During Daniel Kaluuya's powerful address, he offered a poetic reflection on Black history, while the camera showed the joyful expressions of his mother and sister (and his mom's hilarious expression after a certain cringey joke).

The ceremony wasn't just intimate, but also more fun. The attendees looked more comfortable in the smaller space and more willing to be themselves. Glenn Close stood up and danced to "Da Butt" by E.U., telling the Academy that they should have nominated the hip-hop song when it was released in the late '80s. Presenters shared jokes with nominees and winners referenced their childhood crushes (we're looking at you, Emerald Fennell). The event just felt more relaxed as a whole.

The Academy still has a long way to go, and we'll have to wait and see how many of these changes remain when the ceremony will (most likely) return to its larger scale. But, this year marked a change that was definitely for the better.

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Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Joel is the Associate Editor for News & Entertainment and has been reporting on all things pop culture for over 5 years. Before working at PureWow, he served as a Features...