Oscars 2021: Winning Colours of Cinematic Triumph

Oscars 2021: Winning Colours of Cinematic Triumph

Two titles with the word “black”, the Academy’s oldest winner, Indian actor Irrfan in, In Memoriam and “humanitarian” Tyler Perry’s healing high

What could the 93rd Oscars award ceremony streamed live from the Los Angeles Union Station, (a trimmed, physical event, with all the gowns and cinematic guts) mean for sleepless, choked India at 5am in the morning?

Trapped as we are in the jaws of another unrelenting COVID-19 wave, did the dazzling Zendaya’s sunflower yellow Valentino gown cheer us or was it the smile-a-dozen, sunlit body language of nine-year-old Korean actor Alan Kim in Thom Browne style? Unmoored as we may be by our distressing existential moment, maybe we were rooting for the un-belonging of Nomadland. Or, perhaps had our eyes peeled for the “return of the red carpet” whose new, pink colour notwithstanding had left a little black hole in the life and times of celebrity glamour.


Zendaya arrived at the Academy awards wearing neon yellow custom Valentino with stacks of Bvlgari necklaces.

Was it the way we had gasped with Vanessa Kirby’s Martha Weiss in gruelling maternal labour for a home birth while watching Pieces of a Woman? Or, the dark, the very dark irony of Riz Ahmed’s recovering heroin addict drummer Ruben, who loses his hearing in the Sound of Metal that had kept us awake in recent nights?

Yeah, nah, maybe, this, that, whatever. Searching for pure glamour, just the dresses, oh those once-upon-a-time, stunning, gorgeous gowns that made Hollywood stars the stuff of fashion legends is a perfectly arguable reason anyway to watch the Oscars. Whether or not we are grappling with the ruins of the pandemic or wheezing through reasoning, made fuzzy by what The New York Times calls “languishing”.


Halle Berry in a custom Dolce & Gabbana dress.

One way or the other, if you did put on the television this morning in India (or allowed your social media feeds to unravel the action @TheAcademy), there were many reasons that washed up the New, New Oscars vibe. Even if the making of the “New” is a few years old. There was a certain “resonance” (“when something inside matches with something outside as a character says in Pieces of a Woman”), in the way the ceremony was conducted, worn and attended. The elegant restraint of the audience seated around tables, unmasked in their shared sense of a community in repair, a cinematic industry at work.

An acknowledgement, spoken, felt, heard and seen that the widening boundaries and inclusions of the world’s most watched film awards ceremony warms and cheers us wherever we may be. World cinema that is, which enables us to hurt as hell or rejoice without shackles. A quiet doff for people who make excellent films around the world helping us get naked down only to our emotions. A world where we can not only befriend an octopus but mourn her when she departs leaving behind lessons. Or, as actor Reese Witherspoon, presenting for Best Animated Short Film said: “(Animated films) tell you that you can change the world even if you are as small as a mouse.”


Andra Day at the 93rd Annual Academy Awards wearing a gold Vera Wang Haute gown paired with jewellery fromTIffany & Co.

While it was a relief to see the few glam gowns and an unconventional suit or two (my top favourites were Coleman Domingo in hot than hotter pink Versace and Angela Bassett in red and heady custom Alberta Ferretti, with special mention to Daniel Kaluuya’s Cartier necklace), here is a breakdown of what really helped us shrug off our “Mehs.”

*Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao (who won Best Director for Nomadland) quietly but perkily set aside the Academy’s dress code, “a fusion of inspiration and aspirational” which had uninvited casual wear, to arrive in an understated taupe dress by Hermès, her hair braided in two spindly plaits and white sneakers.


Chloé Zhao and Charlene Swankie. Zhao wore a beige Hermès dress with sneakers and Swankie wore a purple pantsuit.

*Travon Free who won Live Action Short Film for Two Distant Strangers—co-directed with Martin Desmond Roe—for reminding the audience about the number of (Black) people killed every day by the police in America. For requesting everyone “not to be indifferent to our pain”.

*The lamps on the tables set in the Union Square station turned auditorium near Dolby Theatre (the former venue for the Oscars). They had round golden bases with the Oscars statuette digitally printed on the shades to light up the moment.


Photo: Instagram/theacademy

Inside the Union Square Station, LA for the 93rd Oscar Awards.

*The new Oscars campaign artwork, a comment on the changing dynamism of the awards and its inclusivity. Nigerian multidisciplinary artist Temi Coker’s artwork formed the most frequently zoomed in backdrop behind presenters and winners while Swedish illustrator Petra Eriksson’s work filled other spaces. Whoa.


Oscar artwork by Temi Coker.

*If British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed’s Prada tux was cool, dark and winsome, his act of fixing his wife Fatima Farheen Mirza’s hair for the red carpet cameras was way too hot. Mirza’s quiet beauty in her ice blue Valentino ensemble and sleek flower patterned maroon heels added to the couple’s charm.

*Minari actor Yuh-Jung Youn who became the first Korean actor to win for supporting actress, scored a point by saying “I am the mother of two boys who made me go to work. Beloved sons, this is the result when mommy works very hard.” Her openly confessed admiration for the pony tailed presenter Brad Pitt (“finally Mr. Pitt, I have met you”) and how she watched Oscars for years on TV never knowing she could get there was, well, resonating.


Riz Ahmed and Fatima Farheen Mirza. Ahmed was dressed in Prada while his wife dressed in Valentino Haute Couture.

*Ann Roth, who won the Oscar for Best Costume for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom made her the oldest winner at 89 in the history of the awards. Incredibly, the film also took home the trophy for Makeup and Hairstyle, making its hairstylist duo—Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, the first black women to win in this category.

*Held within weeks of the George Floyd trial which could change the course of policing in the US, two nominated films had the word “black” in their titles. Judas and the Black Messiah that won Daniel Kaluuya the Best Supporting Actor award was one. The other, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom won a few awards, even as the luminous and most nominated Black actress Viola Davis lost to Frances McDormand for Nomadland.


Ann Roth on the sets of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

A list of people of colour who won at the 93rd Oscar awards ceremony.

Banner: Actress Angela Bassett at the Oscars on April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles. Photos Chris Pizzello/POOL/AFP