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.