Steven Yeun
Steven Yeun (Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for PRADA)

The 2021 Academy Awards are poised to be historic for Black women — and a lot of first-time film actors, too. For the first time ever, Black women were nominated for hair and makeup styling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom hair department head Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, Viola Davis’ hair stylist.

“The recognition of my art and talent by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is bigger than me,” Wilson told Variety. Davis is nominated too, for Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, making Oscar history with her 4th nomination. Davis is now the most-nominated Black actress ever, and the only Black woman with two Best Actress nominations. Andra Day is also nominated for Best Actress for her role in Hulu’s The United States vs. Billie Holiday. It’s the first time in 48 years that two Black women have been nominated in the Best Actress category since Diana Ross and Cicely Tyson were both nominated in 1973. This is Day’s first time acting in a movie but she’s not the only first-timer nominated. 

The Hollywood Reporter confirmed a record amount of newbies have been nominated for Oscars this year. Day, Minari’s Yuh-Jung Youn, Sound of Metal’s Paul Raci, Borat’s Maria Bakalova, and Minari’s Steven Yeun are all first-time film acting Oscar nominees. According to THR, “When it comes to Academy Awards prognostication, there’s often no greater predicting factor than the existence of a previous nomination” — except that’s not the case this year. Only four of the 16 people nominated have received previous nominations.

The entertainment website credits the pandemic as levelling the playing field. “Without the ability to hobnob during a pandemic, Hollywood publicists apparently had less industry sway these past few months than film critics,” THR explained. We’re hoping as the world opens up post-COVID, the nominees continue to reflect shifting demographics and that Oscar voters are increasingly progressive in their choices.