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Oscar nominations packed with firsts, but no clear best picture favorite

LOS ANGELES —  Netflix’s 1930s Hollywood drama Mank led a diverse field of Oscar nominations on Monday packed with historic firsts but with no clear front-runner for the highest honors in the movie industry.

Mank, about Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, got 10 nods, including best picture, best director for David Fincher and acting nominations for Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried. But most of its nominations were in craft fields like sound design and make-up.

Six nods each were earned by the other best picture contenders The Father, Black Panther story Judas and the Black Messiah, Korean-language drama Minari, Nomadland, #MeToo revenge tale Promising Young Woman, Amazon Studio deaf drama Sound of Metal, and 1960s Vietnam War courtroom drama The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Nine of the 20 acting nods went to non-white performers, including firsts for a Muslim actor (Riz Ahmed) and a South Korean (Yuh-Jung Youn of Minari), in what Variety described as the most diverse acting Oscars slate ever.

“Never in my dreams did I ever think a Korean actress would be nominated for an Oscar, and I can’t believe it’s me!” Ms. Youn, who plays a mischievous granny, said in a statement.

Fellow cast member Steven Yeun and director Lee Isaac Chung, both Korean-Americans, also got nominations for the moving story of an immigrant Korean family trying to start a farm in the United States in the 1980s.

A record 76 nominations went to women, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said. For the first time in the 93-year history of the Oscars, two women will compete in the five-person best director race that has long been a male stronghold.

They are Chinese-born director Chloe Zhao for Searchlight Pictures’ Nomadland about modern van dwellers in the United States, and British director Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman. Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to have won a best director Oscar.

“Sobbing,” Ms. Fennell wrote on Twitter.

Vanessa Kirby, nominated for playing a grieving mother in Pieces of a Woman, said she was honored to be part of the female lineup.

“I do feel like now more than ever it is our responsibility to find and tell stories about the female experience that haven’t been represented on the screen,” she told Reuters.

As expected, Netflix, Inc. led all outlets with 35 nods after a year in which the coronavirus pandemic saw movie studios delay scores of new releases or send them to streaming platforms.

The Oscars will be handed out on Apr. 25 in a ceremony that will take place at both the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, and, for the first time, at Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles. Neither the form of the ceremony nor a host has been announced.

“In our industry there is nothing more traditional than the Academy Awards, which hopefully sends a sign of hope that we will get out of this,” Mr. Oldman said in a statement.

The late Chadwick Boseman got a first Oscar nod for his final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, while previous winners Frances McDormand and Viola Davis and Britons Carey Mulligan, Olivia Colman, and Anthony Hopkins were also nominated.

One notable omission from the top fields was director Spike Lee’s Vietnam war drama Da 5 Bloods, which received only one, for original score.

Yet several other movies featuring Black stories were recognized including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and animated movie Soul.

“When you look at stories concerning Black life in America, there were a handful of films that got added to that canon this year. … One Night in Miami was a part of that, so it’s very meaningful to me,” Leslie Odom, Jr., who was nominated for playing singer Sam Cooke, told Reuters.

The lineup reflects a drive to recruit more women and people of color as Academy members after the #OscarsSoWhite uproars of 2015 and 2016.

Eleven actors were first-time nominees, including Bulgarian newcomer Maria Bakalova for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Andra Day for her lead performance in The United State vs. Billie Holiday, and Lakeith Stanfield for Judas and the Black Messiah. Reuters

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