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Arts and Culture

Academy Awards Were Handed Out Despite Pandemic Theater Closures

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Union Station, the classic transit hub in Los Angeles, made an announcement when it hosted the Academy Awards last night. Streets were closed outside, but bus and rail service continued. The high-ceilinged entry hall was used as a safer space in pandemic times where stars mingled and a few made history. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: This year's Oscar season ended on a high note, literally.

(SOUNDBITE OF 93RD ACADEMY AWARDS)

FRANCES MCDORMAND: (Howling).

(CHEERING)

DEL BARCO: That was Frances McDormand's onstage response when "Nomadland" won for best picture. It was the howl heard 'round Union Station. McDormand also picked up an actress in a leading role Oscar for starring in the film about a woman named Fern who travels around the country in her van, meeting up with real-life nomads. In a virtual media room, Oscar winner Chloe Zhao explained that McDormand was howling about their production sound mixer.

(SOUNDBITE OF 93RD ACADEMY AWARDS)

CHLOE ZHAO: We unfortunately lost him recently. And his name is Wolf. And he's the production sound mixer both on my previous film, "The Rider," and "Nomadland." He's part of the family. So that howling to the moon is for Wolf.

DEL BARCO: Zhao became the first woman of color to win the best director award. Her win was announced by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, whose film "Parasite" won four Oscars last year. In her acceptance speech, Zhao thanked the community of nomads she met while making her film, and she quoted a Chinese poem she and her father shared. Zhao talked to reporters about making history.

(SOUNDBITE OF 93RD ACADEMY AWARDS)

ZHAO: Well, you know, I'm extremely fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living. And if this win helps more people like me get to live their dreams, I'm so grateful for this.

DEL BARCO: Yuh-jung Youn also made Oscar history as the first Korean and second Asian to win for actress in a supporting role. She played the grandmother in the film "Minari" about a Korean American family in rural Arkansas. As she held her golden statuette, she told her fellow nominees they were all winners. But she joked...

(SOUNDBITE OF 93RD ACADEMY AWARDS)

YUH-JUNG YOUN: I think maybe I'm luckier than you.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUN: And also, maybe it's American hospitality for the Korean actor. I'm not sure. But anyway, thank you so much. And I'd like to thank to my two boys, who made me go out and work.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUN: So this is the result because mommy worked so hard.

(LAUGHTER)

DEL BARCO: Other pioneers include Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, now the first Black women to win the Oscar for makeup and hairstyling. They created and styled the wigs for actress Viola Davis and the rest of the cast of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." In accepting the award, Neal referenced her grandfather, who had been a Tuskegee airman.

(SOUNDBITE OF 93RD ACADEMY AWARDS)

MIA NEAL: I also stand here, as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling, with so much excitement for the future...

(APPLAUSE, CHEERING)

NEAL: ...Because I can picture Black trans women standing up here and Asian sisters and our Latina sisters and Indigenous women. And I know that one day, it won't be unusual or groundbreaking. It will just be normal.

DEL BARCO: This year's Oscars was an intimate affair with nominees sitting at fancy tables in the refurbished Union Station pandemic style - socially distanced, vaccinated but unmasked. Questlove was the house DJ. And the guests even played a movie music trivia game.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE'S "BORN TO PLAY REPRISE")

DEL BARCO: The Pixar film "Soul" won the Oscar for best animated feature. It was released on Disney+ and never played in theaters, an Oscar first. "Soul" also earned an award for its score, written by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and pianist Jon Batiste.

(CHEERING)

JON BATISTE: Hello, hello.

DEL BARCO: Batiste's fingers were animated for the main character of the movie, a jazz musician.

BATISTE: God gave us 12 notes. It's the same 12 notes Duke Ellington had, Bach had. It's the same 12 - Nina Simone. Man, it's just so incredibly special.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE'S "BORN TO PLAY REPRISE")

DEL BARCO: Anthony Hopkins won the actor in a leading role Oscar for starring in the drama "The Father," but he wasn't there to accept it. Hopkins beat out the late actor Chadwick Boseman in his final performance as a cornet player in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Boseman died of cancer last summer, and his was the last image in the portion of the show honoring those who died. Singer H.E.R. won the award for best original song from the movie "Judas And The Black Messiah."

Daniel Kaluuya, who co-starred, won the award for actor in a supporting role. Kaluuya thanked and possibly embarrassed his mother, and he gave tribute to the man whose life he portrayed, Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.

(SOUNDBITE OF 93RD ACADEMY AWARDS)

DANIEL KALUUYA: He was on this Earth for 21 years, 21 years. And he found a way to feed kids breakfast, educate kids, give free medical care against all the odds. He showed me. He taught me. Him, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party - they showed me how to love myself. And with that love, they overflowed it to the Black community and into other communities.

DEL BARCO: During the ceremony, actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry was honored for his philanthropic work, including financially assisting the families of Black people killed by police. In accepting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, Perry honored his mother. He said she had grown up in Jim Crow Louisiana and grieved the death of Emmett Till, the civil rights leaders and more.

(SOUNDBITE OF 93RD ACADEMY AWARDS)

TYLER PERRY: My mother taught me to refuse hate. She taught me to refuse blanket judgment. And in this time and with all of the Internet and social media and algorithms and everything that wants us to think a certain way, the 24-hour news cycle, it is my hope that all of us will teach our kids - and not only to remember - just refuse hate.

DEL BARCO: This year's coronavirus pandemic ceremony may be remembered for many such poignant moments. It may also be known as the one in which eight-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close twerked to the song "Da Butt." Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHT FOR YOU")

HER: Oh, I'm gon' see it through. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.