2021 Academy Awards: ‘Nomadland’ is the top winner

April 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

“Nomadland” producers Peter Spears, Frances McDormand, Chloé Zhao, Mollye Asher and Dan Janvey at the 93rd annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 25, 2021. (Photo courtesy of ABC)

With three prizes, including Best Picture, “Nomadland” was the top winner for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards, which took place place at Union Station and at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on April 25, 2021. There was no host for the ceremony, which was telecast in the U.S. on ABC. Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland” also won the awards for Best Director (for Chloé Zhao) and Best Actress (for Frances McDormand). In the movie, McDormand portrays a widow who lives out of her van and travels across different states in U.S. to find work.

With 10 nods, the Netflix drama “Mank” was the top nominee and ended up with two Academy Awards. Movies that won two Oscars each included:

  • “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros. Pictures): Best Supporting Actor (for Daniel Kaluuya), Best Original Song (“Fight for You”)
  • “Mank” (Netflix): Best Production Design, Best Cinematography
  • “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix): Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design
  • “Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios): Best Film Editing, Best Sound
  • “Soul” (Pixar Studios): Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score

The awards are voted for by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For the 2021 ceremony, eligible movies were those released in the U.S. in 2020 and (due to the coronavirus pandemic) the eligibility period was extended to movies released in January and February 2021. Because of the pandemic, movies that were planned for a theatrical release but were released directly to home video or on streaming services were also eligible. Beginning with the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony, there will be a required 10 movies nominated for Best Picture. From 2009 to 2021, the rule was that there could be five to 10 movies per year nominated for Best Picture.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were less people invited to the Oscar ceremony in 2021. The presenters included Riz Ahmed, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, Laura Dern, Harrison Ford, Bong Joon Ho, Regina King, Marlee Matlin, Rita Moreno, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Steven Yeun, Renée Zellweger and Zendaya.

The 2021 Oscar ceremony also marked big changes to the show in other ways. Performances of the year’s Oscar-nominated songs usually take place during the ceremony. Instead, the performances of the five nominated songs were pre-recorded and televised during the 90-minute pre-show telecast “Oscars: Into the Spotlight,” which included live interviews from the Oscar red carpet. This pre-show telecast was hosted by actors Ariana DeBose and Lil Rel Howery.

Howery acted as an unofficial emcee during parts of the Oscar telecast, which included a segment where Howery played a trivia game where people in the audience had to guess if a song was an Oscar winner, an Oscar nominee or wasn’t nominated for an Oscar at all. The segment started out flat and awkward. Andra Day got her answer correct that Prince’s “Purple Rain” song wasn’t even nominated. (However, the “Purple Rain” soundtrack score did an Oscar.)Kaluuya incorrectly guessed that Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” didn’t win an Oscar. (It did.)

But the segment end up being saved by Glenn Close, who correctly guessed that E.U.’s “Da Butt” (from Spike Lee’s 1988 movie “School Daze”) wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, and she proceeded to show her knowledge of ’80s hip-hop by getting up and doing “Da Butt” dance. This moment got a lot of laughs and cheers and will be sure to be remembered as the most unexpected comedic moment at the 2021 Academy Awards. This moment with Close could have been pre-planned and rehearsed since she seemed a little too prepared with an answer, but it didn’t take away from it being one of the show’s highlights that didn’t involve an acceptance speech.

Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins were the producers of the Academy Awards show. They also made some changes to the show’s format. Instead of presenting the prizes for Best Picture last, the awards for Best Actor and Best Actress were presented last. The award for Best Picture was the third-to-last award presented. The prize for Best Director was handed out in the middle of the ceremony, instead of following the tradition of being the second-to-last award handed out during the ceremony.

Another big change was that winners were not limited to a 90-second acceptance speech. Some acceptance speeches lasted longer than three minutes. In addition, there was no live orchestra at the ceremony. Instead, musician Questlove was a DJ at the award show. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the nominees were shown via satellite in various parts of the world, such as London, Paris and Sydney.

The Oscar ceremony made history in some diversity issues, as Zhao (a Chinese-born filmmaker) became the first woman of color to win Best Director. She is also the second woman in Oscar history to win this Best Director prize. (Kathryn Bigelow, director of the 2009 war film “The Hurt Locker,” was the first woman to win the Best Director award in 2010.) Zhao’s victory had been widely predicted, since Zhao won all of the year’s major Best Director awards for “Nomadland” prior to winning the Oscar.

Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” made Oscar history by being the first black people to be nominated for and to win the prize for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. This breakthrough was acknowledged during their acceptance speech for the award, which they share with Sergio Lopez-Rivera. Neal said in her acceptance speech: “I want to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, who were denied, but never gave up. I also stand here—as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling—with so much excitement for the future.”

Meanwhile, South Korean actress Yuh-jung Youn of “Minari” became the first Asian-born woman to win in the Best Supporting Actress category. In 1958, Japanese American actress Miyoshi Umeki of the 1957 movie “Sayonara” became the first Asian woman overall to win in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Although the late Chadwick Boseman was widely predicted to win the Best Actor award for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which was his last film role, the prize went to Anthony Hopkins for “The Father.” (Hopkins did not attend the Oscar ceremony and was not available by video.) At 83 years old, Hopkins became the oldest person to win an Oscar in an actor/actress category, surpassing the record set by “Beginners” co-star Christopher Plummer, who won the Best Supporting Actor award in 2012, at the age of 82.

Boseman won several Best Actor prizes (including a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award) for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” leading up to Oscar ceremony. However, there was a foreshadowing that Boseman might not win the Oscar when he was nominated for but didn’t win the prizes for Best Actor at the BAFTA Awards and Film Independent Spirit Awards, which were the two major award shows that took place closest to the Oscars. Boseman died of colon cancer in August 2020.

The Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, with MPTF officials Bob Beitcher, Norma Carranza and Jennifer Jorge acceping the prize on stage. Tyler Perry received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, a non-competitive prize. In his speech, he urged people to “stand up to hate” and to be more giving and compassionate with each other.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominations for the 2021 Academy Awards:


Best Picture

“The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics) 

“Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros.) 

“Mank” (Netflix) 

“Minari” (A24) 

“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)*

“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features) 

“Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios) 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) 

Best Director

Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”)

David Fincher (“Mank”) 

Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) 

Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”)*

Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) 

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) 

Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”)*

Gary Oldman (“Mank”) 

Steven Yeun (“Minari”) 

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Andra Day (“The United States v. Billie Holiday”) 

Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) 

Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”)*

Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) 

Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)*

Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”) 

Paul Raci (“Sound of Metal”) 

LaKeith Stanfield (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) 

Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) 

Olivia Colman (“The Father”) 

Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”) 

Yuh-jung Youn (“Minari”)*

Best Adapted Screenplay

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman and Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer and Nina Pedrad

“The Father,” Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller*

“Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao 

“One Night in Miami,” Kemp Powers 

“The White Tiger,” Ramin Bahrani 

Best Original Screenplay

“Judas and the Black Messiah.” Screenplay by Will Berson, Shaka King; Story by Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas and Keith Lucas

“Minari,” Lee Isaac Chung 

“Promising Young Woman,” Emerald Fennell*

“Sound of Metal.” Screenplay by Darius Marder and Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Aaron Sorkin 

Best Cinematography

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” Sean Bobbitt 

“Mank,” Erik Messerschmidt*

“News of the World,” Dariusz Wolski 

“Nomadland,” Joshua James Richards 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Phedon Papamichael 

Best Film Editing

“The Father,” Yorgos Lamprinos

“Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao 

“Promising Young Woman,” Frédéric Thoraval 

“Sound of Metal,” Mikkel E.G. Nielsen*

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Alan Baumgarten 

Best Sound

“Greyhound,” Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders and David Wyman

“Mank,” Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin

“News of the World,” Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller and John Pritchett

“Soul,” Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott and David Parker

“Sound of Metal,” Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh*

Best Original Score

“Da 5 Bloods,” Terence Blanchard 

“Mank,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross 

“Minari,” Emile Mosseri 

“News of the World,” James Newton Howard 

“Soul,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste*

Best Original Song

“Fight for You,” (“Judas and the Black Messiah”). Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas*

“Hear My Voice,” (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”). Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite

“Húsavík,” (“Eurovision Song Contest”). Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson

“Io Si (Seen),” (“The Life Ahead”). Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini

“Speak Now,” (“One Night in Miami”). Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth

Best Animated Feature Film

“Onward” (Pixar) 

“Over the Moon” (Netflix) 

“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (Netflix) 

“Soul” (Pixar)*

“Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV+/GKIDS) 

Best International Feature Film

“Another Round” (Denmark)*

“Better Days” (Hong Kong)

“Collective” (Romania) 

“The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Tunisia)

“Quo Vadis, Aida?”(Bosnia and Herzegovina) 

Best Documentary Feature

“Collective” (Magnolia Pictures and Participant) 

“Crip Camp” (Netflix) 

“The Mole Agent” (Gravitas Ventures) 

“My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)*

“Time” (Amazon Studios) 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

“Emma,” Marese Langan, Laura Allen, Claudia Stolze

“Hillbilly Elegy,” Eryn Krueger Mekash, Patricia Dehaney, Matthew Mungle 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, Jamika Wilson*

“Mank,” Kimberley Spiteri, Gigi Williams, Colleen LaBaff

“Pinocchio,” Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli, Francesco Pegoretti

Best Costume Design

“Emma,” Alexandra Byrne 

“Mank,” Trish Summerville 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Ann Roth*

“Mulan,” Bina Daigeler 

“Pinocchio,” Massimo Cantini Parrini

Best Production Design

“The Father.” Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Stoughton

“Mank.” Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale*

“News of the World.” Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan

“Tenet.” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas

Best Visual Effects

“Love and Monsters,” Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox 

“The Midnight Sky,” Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins

“Mulan,” Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram

“The One and Only Ivan,” Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, Ben Jones and Santiago Colomo Martinez

“Tenet,” Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher*

Best Documentary Short Subject

“Colette” (Time Travel Unlimited)*

“A Concerto Is a Conversation” (Breakwater Studios) 

“Do Not Split” (Field of Vision) 

“Hunger Ward” (MTV Documentary Films)

“A Love Song for Latasha” (Netflix) 

Best Animated Short Film

“Burrow” (Disney Plus/Pixar)

“Genius Loci” (Kazak Productions) 

“If Anything Happens I Love You” (Netflix)*

“Opera” (Beasts and Natives Alike) 

“Yes-People” (CAOZ hf. Hólamói) 

Best Live-Action Short Film

“Feeling Through” 

“The Letter Room” 

“The Present” 

“Two Distant Strangers”*

“White Eye” 

2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards: ‘Nomadland’ is the top winner

April 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Frances McDormand in “Nomadland” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

With four prizes, including Best Feature, the Searchlight Pictures drama “Nomadland” was the top winner at the 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards, which was hosted by actress Melissa Villaseñor. For the first time, the Spirit Awards show was not held the day before the Academy Awards. Instead, the Spirit Awards ceremony took place on April 22, with a live telecast at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on IFC and AMC+. The 2021 Academy Awards will take place on April 25. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both ceremonies are mostly virtual.

The other Spirit Awards for “Nomadland” were Best Director and Best Editing (both for Chloé Zhao) and Best Cinematography (for Joshua James Richards). Amazon Studios’ drama “Sound of Metal” (about a heavy-metal drummer who goes deaf) received three Spirit Awards: Best First Feature (for director Darius Marder and four producers), Best Male Lead (for Riz Ahmed) and Best Supporting Male (for Paul Raci). Focus Features’ #MeToo revenge film “Promising Young Woman” won the awards for Best Female Lead (for Carey Mulligan) and Best Screenplay (for Emerald Fennell).

The 2021 Spirit Awards also included the debut of television categories for the ceremony. The HBO limited drama series “I May Destroy You” and the Netflix limited drama series “Unorthodox” won two prizes each. “I May Destroy You” got the awards for Best New Scripted Series and Best Ensemble Cast in a New Scripted Series, which is a non-competitive category. “Unorthodox” garnered awards for Best Female Performance in a New Scripted Series (for Shira Haas) and Best Male Performance in a New Scripted Series (for Amit Rahav).

With seven nods, the Focus Features abortion drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” was the top nominee of there ceremony but the movie ended up not winning any of the awards.

Eligible movies were those released in 2020 that had a production budget of no more than $22.5 million. Therefore, several critically acclaimed 2020 movies with budgets higher than $22.5 million were not eligible, including the Netflix films “Da 5 Bloods,””Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

As for what defines an “independent” TV show for the Spirit Awards, Film Independent president John Welsh told Variety in a September 2020 interview that it would depend on a TV show’s “aesthetic, original provocative subject matter, unique voice and diversity. The types of work that we celebrate on the film side, and TV side, they’re going to look very similar. … Somehow these singular voices are finding their way into television and making a mark on the culture. We are remiss if we don’t celebrate that.”

Here is the complete list of winners and nominees for the 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards:


BEST FEATURE (Award given to the producer. Executive Producers are not awarded.)

First Cow

Producers: Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Producers: Todd Black, Denzel Washington, Dany Wolf


Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh

 Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Producers: Sara Murphy, Adele Romanski


Producers: Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Chloé Zhao

BEST FIRST FEATURE (Award given to director and producer)

I Carry You With Me

Director/Producer: Heidi Ewing

Producers: Edher Campos, Mynette Louie, Gabriela Maire

The Forty-Year-Old Version

Director/Producer: Radha Blank

Producers: Inuka Bacote-Capiga, Jordan Fudge, Rishi Rajani, Jennifer Semler, Lena Waithe

Miss Juneteenth

Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples

Producers: Toby Halbrooks, Tim Headington, Jeanie Igoe, James M. Johnston, Theresa Steele Page, Neil Creque Williams

Nine Days

Director: Edson Oda

Producers: Jason Michael Berman, Mette-Marie Kongsved, Matthew Linder, Laura Tunstall, Datari Turner

Sound of Metal*

Director: Darius Marder

Producers: Bill Benz, Kathy Benz, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – Given to the best feature made for under $500,000 (Award given to the writer, director and producer. Executive Producers are not awarded.)

The Killing of Two Lovers

Writer/Director/Producer: Robert Machoian

Producers: Scott Christopherson, Clayne Crawford

La Leyenda Negra

Writer/Director: Patricia Vidal Delgado

Producers: Alicia Herder, Marcel Perez

Lingua Franca

Writer/Director/Producer: Isabel Sandoval

Producers: Darlene Catly Malimas, Jhett Tolentino, Carlo Velayo


Writer/Director: Merawi Gerima

Saint Frances

Director/Producer: Alex Thompson

Writer: Kelly O’Sullivan

Producers: James Choi, Pierce Cravens, Ian Keiser, Eddie Linker, Raphael Nash, Roger Welp


Lee Isaac ChungMinari

Emerald FennellPromising Young Woman

Eliza HittmanNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Kelly ReichardtFirst Cow

Chloé ZhaoNomadland*


Lee Isaac ChungMinari

Emerald FennellPromising Young Woman*

Eliza HittmanNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Mike MakowskyBad Education

Alice WuThe Half of It


Kitty GreenThe Assistant

Noah HuttonLapsis

Channing Godfrey PeoplesMiss Juneteenth

Andy SiaraPalm Springs*

James SweeneyStraight Up


Jay KeitelShe Dies Tomorrow

Shabier KirchnerBull

Michael LathamThe Assistant

Hélène LouvartNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Joshua James RichardsNomadland*


Andy CannyThe Invisible Man

Scott CummingsNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Merawi GerimaResidue

Enat SidiI Carry You With Me

Chloé Zhao, Nomadland*


Nicole BeharieMiss Juneteenth

Viola DavisMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Sidney FlaniganNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Julia GarnerThe Assistant

Frances McDormandNomadland

Carey MulliganPromising Young Woman*


Riz AhmedSound of Metal*

Chadwick BosemanMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Adarsh GouravThe White Tiger

Rob MorganBull

Steven YeunMinari


Alexis ChikaezeMiss Juneteenth

Yeri HanMinari

Valerie MahaffeyFrench Exit

Talia RyderNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Yuh-jung YounMinari*


Colman DomingoMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Orion LeeFirst Cow

Paul RaciSound of Metal*

Glynn TurmanMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Benedict WongNine Days

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD – Given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast

One Night in Miami…

Director: Regina King

Casting Directors: Kimberly R. Hardin

Ensemble Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.

BEST DOCUMENTARY(Award given to the director and producer)


Director/Producer: Alexander Nanau

Producers: Hanka Kastelicová, Bernard Michaux, Bianca Oana

Crip Camp*

Directors/Producers: Jim LeBrecht, Nicole Newnham

Producer: Sara Bolder

Dick Johnson is Dead

Director/Producer: Kirsten Johnson

Producers: Katy Chevigny, Marilyn Ness

The Mole Agent

Director: Maite Alberdi

Producer: Marcela Santibáñez


Director/Producer: Garrett Bradley

Producers: Lauren Domino, Kellen Quinn

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM (Award given to the director)



Directors: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

The Disciple


Director: Chaitanya Tamhane

Night of the Kings

Ivory Coast

Director: Philippe Lacôte

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time


Director: Lili Horvát

Quo Vadis, Aida?*

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

PRODUCERS AWARD – The Producers Award, now in its 24th year, honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality independent films.

Kara Durrett

Lucas Joaquin

Gerry Kim*

SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD – The Someone to Watch Award, now in its 27th year,  recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition.

David Midell

Director of The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain

Ekwa Msangi*

Director of Farewell Amor

Annie Silverstein

Director of Bull

TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD – The Truer Than Fiction Award, now in its 26th year, is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition.

Cecilia Aldarondo

Director of Landfall

Elegance Bratton

Director of Pier Kids*

Elizabeth Lo

Director of Stray


BEST NEW NON-SCRIPTED OR DOCUMENTARY SERIES (Award given to the Creator, Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer)

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children

Executive Producers: Jeff Dupre, Joshua Bennett, Sam Pollard, Maro Chermayeff, John Legend, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius

City So Real

Produced by: Zak Piper, Steve James

Executive Producers: Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Alex Kotlowitz, Gordon Quinn, Betsy Steinberg, Jolene Pinder

Immigration Nation*

Executive Producers: Christina Clusiau, Shaul Schwarz, Dan Cogan, Jenny Raskin, Brandon Hill, Christian Thompson

Co-Executive Producers: Andrey Alistratov, Jay Arthur Sterrenberg, Lauren Haber

Love Fraud

Executive Producers: Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing, Amy Goodman Kass, Vinnie Malhotra, Jihan Robinson, Michael Bloom, Maria Zuckerman

We’re Here

Creators/Executive Producers: Stephen Warren, Johnnie Ingram

Executive Producers: Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Peter LoGreco

Co-Executive Producers: Erin Haglund, Sabrina Mar

BEST NEW SCRIPTED SERIES (Award given to the Creator, Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer)

I May Destroy You*

Creator/Executive Producer: Michaela Coel

Executive Producers: Phil Clarke, Roberto Troni

Little America

Executive Producers: Lee Eisenberg, Joshuah Bearman, Joshua Davis, Arthur Spector, Alan Yang, Siân Heder, Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon

Small Axe

Executive Producers: Tracey Scoffield, David Tanner, Steve McQueen

A Teacher

Creator/Executive Producer: Hanna Fidell

Executive Producers: Michael Costigan, Kate Mara, Louise Shore, Jason Bateman, Danny Brocklehurst

Co-Executive Producer: Daniel Pipski


Creator/Executive Producer: Anna Winger

Creator: Alexa Karolinski

Executive Producer: Henning Kamm


Elle FanningThe Great

Shira HaasUnorthodox*

Abby McEnanyWork in Progress

Maitreyi RamakrishnanNever Have I Ever

Jordan Kristine SeamónWe Are Who We Are


ConphidanceLittle America

Adam AliLittle America

Nicco AnnanP-Valley

Amit RahavUnorthodox*

Harold TorresZero, Zero, Zero


I May Destroy You

Ensemble Cast: Michaela Coel, Paapa Essiedu, Wruche Opia, Stephen Wight

2021 Golden Globe Awards: ‘Mank’ is the top nominee

February 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman in “Mank” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

With six nominations, Netflix’s movie-industry drama “Mank” is the leading contender for the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards, which will be presented on February 28, 2021. The Golden Globes ceremony has traditionally been held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no large, in-person gathering at the ceremony. Instead, the Golden Globes ceremony will like do what other major live televised award shows have done when going virtual during the pandemic: There will most likely be video linkups of the nominees, so that when the winners are announced, the winners can react live with their acceptance speeches. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will host the ceremony, with Fey at the Rainbow Room in New York City and Poehler at the Beverly Hilton.

NBC has the U.S. telecast of the show, which begins at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) votes for the nominations and awards. The HFPA and Dick Clark Productions are producing the Golden Globe Awards telecast. Eligible movies for the show were those released in the U.S. in 2020 and in January and February 2021. The eligibility window, which usually ends at the end of a calendar year, was extended for movies because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible TV programs were those that premiered on U.S. networks and U.S. streaming services in 2020.

“Mank” tells the story of movie screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (nicknamed Mank) and his experiences while he co-wrote the 1941 classic “Citizen Kane,” including his clashes with “Citizen Kane” director Orson Welles. “Mank” picked up expected nominations in the Motion Picture – Drama categories: Best Picture and Best Actor (Gary Oldman). The other “Mank” nominations are for Best Director (David Fincher), Best Screenplay (the late Jack Fincher, David’s father), Best Supporting Actress (Amanda Seyfried) and Best Original Score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). Another movie contender with multiple nominations is Netflix’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” with five nods. Focus Features’ “Promising Young Woman,” Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Father” and Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland” have four nominations each. “One Night in Miami…” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (both from Amazon Studios) earned three nods each.

For the television categories, the leading contender is Netflix’s “The Crown,” which received six nominations, including Best Television Series – Drama. Following closely behind is the Pop network’s comedy series “Schitt’s Creek,” which scored five nominations, including Best Television Series – Comedy. The Netflix drama series “Ozark,” the HBO limited series “The Undoing” and the Netflix limited series “Ratched” received four nominations each.

Snubs and Surprises

Filmmaker Spike Lee and actors Isiah Whitlock Jr., Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters and Norm Lewis on the set of “Da 5 Bloods” (Photo by David Lee/Netflix)

The most noticeable Golden Globes snub this year was Netflix’s award-winning, critically acclaimed drama movie “Da 5 Bloods” (directed and co-written by Spike Lee), which failed to get any Golden Globe nominations. “Da 5 Bloods” told a fictional story about four African American military veterans of the Vietnam War who go back to Vietnam to look for hidden treasure. Other movies that have been shut out of the Golden Globes race are the Focus Features drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” the A24 drama “First Cow” and the Netflix comedy “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” which have all received several nominations and some wins at independent film awards. Golden Globe TV snubs this year included the Hulu limited drama series “Little Fires Everywhere” and the HBO comedy series “Insecure,” which each received several Emmy nods. Also shut out was the HBO limited drama series “I May Destroy You.”

In terms of surprises, some movies picked up their first major award nominations, despite being shut out of earlier award shows for which they were eligible. Vertical Entertainment’s “Music” is one such example, by receiving two Golden Globe nods in the Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy field: Best Picture and Best Actress (Kate Hudson). Netflix’s star-studded musical “The Prom,” which got mixed reviews from critics and audiences, also scored two nods in the Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy field: Best Picture and Best Actor (James Corden). After getting snubbed in major Emmy Awards categories in 2020, Hulu’s comedy series “The Great” did better than expected at the Golden Globes for the “The Great’s” first season: “The Great” scored three nominations in the Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy field: Best Television Series, Best Actress (Elle Fanning) and Best Actor (Nicholas Hoult).

Diversity and Inclusion

Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. and Anthony Ramos in “Hamilton” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

In terms of diversity, the Golden Globes ended a long drought of not nominating any female directors. This year, women are three of the five Best Director nominees: Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland,” Regina King for “One Night in Miami …” and Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman.” Zhao and Fennell are also nominees in another traditionally male-dominated Golden Globes category: Best Screenplay.

The major movie categories each had at least one person of color as a nominee, except for two categories: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actress. Black people are the people of color with the highest representation this year.

In the movie categories, there are nominations for “One Night in Miami…” and Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which are both based on plays written by and about African Americans. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” has two nominations in the Motion Picture – Drama field: Best Actress (for Viola Davis) and Best Actor (for the late Chadwick Boseman). Daniel Kaluuya’s portrayal of Black Panther activist Fred Hampton in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Judas and the Black Messiah” garnered a nod for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture. “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” earned two nominations for star Andra Day: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and Best Original Song. In the category of Best Original Song, three of the five nominated songs were written and performed by African Americans: Day’s “Tigress & Tweed”; Leslie Odom Jr.’s “Speak Now” (from “One Night in Miami…”); and H.E.R.’s “Fight for You” (from “Judas and the Black Messiah”).

STX’s “The Mauritanian,” which is about a suspected terrorist imprisoned in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, stars Algerian French actor Tahar Rahim, who is nominated for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.

Asian representation at the Golden Globes this year is mostly from “Nomadland” filmmaker Zhao, who is nominated as a director, producer and screenwriter for the film. Riz Ahmed, who is of Pakistani British heritage, is nominated for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, for his role in Amazon Studios’ “Sound of Metal,” where he portrays an American heavy metal drummer who goes deaf. Indian British actor Dev Patel of Searchlight Pictures’ “The Personal History of David Copperfield” got a nod for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. A24’s “Minari,” about a Korean American family who moves to rural Arkansas, is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.

Latinos, who were mostly shut out of the Golden Globes this year, are represented only by Shudder’s Guatemalan horror movie “La Llorona” (nominated for Best Foreign Language Film) and by “Hamilton” star/creator Lin-Manuel Miranda (who is Puerto Rican American descent), who got nominations for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, while “Hamilton” (which has a multiracial cast) was nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. “Hamilton,” which is a filmed 2016 performance of the Tony-winning musical, is available exclusively on the Disney+ streaming service and is not eligible for the Oscars because the movie was never released in theaters.

People of color are underrepresented in the TV categories. Almost all of the nominees are white in most of the TV categories this year. Black people got the most nominations in the the TV categories because of Amazon Prime Video’s limited series “Small Axe” (about Caribbean immigrant life in England), which picked up two nods: Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, while “Small Axe” star John Boyega is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television.

African American actor Don Cheadle of Showtime’s “Black Monday” is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy. HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” which has a predominantly African American cast, is up for Best Television Series – Drama, although that is the only Golden Globe nomination it received this year.

Egyptian American actor Ramy Youssef from Hulu’s “Ramy” is nominated for Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy, an award he won in 2020. Native Americans, who are severely underrepresented in entertainment, received no nominations in any of the Golden Globe categories this year.

Portrayals of the disabled community are in nominated performances by Ahmed in “Sound of Metal” (about a musician who goes deaf) and Anthony Hopkins as a man with dementia in Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Father.” Vertical Entertainment’s “Music,” about a recovering addict (played by Kate Hudson) raising her autistic teenage half-sister named Music (played by Maddie Ziegler), has sparked criticism over how autism is portrayed by Ziegler, who is not autistic, and for a controversial scene in which the autistic person is physically restrained. In television, Emmy-winning “I Know This Must Be True” star Mark Ruffalo portrays identical twins, one of whom has schizophrenia. For his role in this HBO limited drama series, Ruffalo is nominated for Best Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television.

The LGBTQ community is represented in the movie categories with the musical “The Prom,” which is about a lesbian teenager who wants go to her school prom with her girlfriend. “The Prom,” directed and produced by Ryan Murphy (who is openly gay), is nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, while James Corden (who plays a gay character in the movie) is nominated for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. The French drama “Two of Us,” about two elderly lesbians, is nominated for Best International Film. And, as previously mentioned, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” star Davis (who portrays lesbian singer Ma Rainey) and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” star Day (who depicts bisexual singer Billie Holiday) are each nominated for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.

In television, the Murphy-produced Netflix limited series “Ratched” earned nominations for lead actress Sarah Paulson and supporting actress Cynthia Nixon, who are both openly lesbian/queer. Murphy is also nominated as an executive producer for “Ratched,” which is a contender for Best Television Series – Drama. Meanwhile, openly gay actor/writer/producer Dan Levy earned two nominations for “Schitt’s Creek”: Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television. “Schitt’s Creek” (which has its series finale on the Pop Network in 2020) swept all the major categories for comedy TV series at the 2020 Emmy Awards, so it will be interesting to see how well “Schitt’s Creek” does at the Golden Globes.

Here is the complete list of nominations for the 2021 Golden Globe Awards:


Best Motion Picture – Drama
“The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics)
“Mank” (Netflix)
“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)
“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon Studios)
“Hamilton” (Disney+)
“Palm Springs” (Neon/Hulu)
“Music” (Vertical Entertainment)
“The Prom” (Netflix)

Best Director 
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”
David Fincher, “Mank” (Netflix)
Regina King, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”)
Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”)
Gary Oldman (“Mank”)
Tahar Rahim (“The Mauritanian”)

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”)
James Corden (“The Prom”)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”)
Dev Patel (“The Personal History of David Copperfield”)
Andy Samberg (“Palm Springs”)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”)
Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”)
Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”)
Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”)
Kate Hudson (“Music”)
Michelle Pfeiffer (“French Exit”)
Rosamund Pike (“I Care a Lot”)
Anya Taylor-Joy (“Emma”)

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”)
Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)
Jared Leto (“The Little Things”)
Bill Murray (“On the Rocks”)
Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”)

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture 
Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”)
Olivia Colman (“The Father”)
Jodie Foster (“The Mauritanian”)
Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”)
Helena Zengel (“News of the World”)

Best Screenplay
“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features) – Emerald Fennell
“Mank” (Netflix) – Jack Fincher
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) – Aaron Sorkin
“The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton
“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) – Chloé Zhao

Best Original Score
“The Midnight Sky” – Alexandre Desplat
“Tenet” – Ludwig Göransson
“News of the World” – James Newton Howard
“Mank” – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
“Soul” – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste

Best Original Song 
“Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah” – H.E.R., Dernst Emile II, Tiara Thomas
“Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7” – Daniel Pemberton, Celeste
“Io Si (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead” – Diane Warren, Laura Pausini, Niccolò Agliardi
“Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – Leslie Odom Jr, Sam Ashworth
“Tigress & Tweed” from “The United States vs. Billie Holliday” (Hulu) – Andra Day, Raphael Saadiq

Best Animated Film 
“The Croods: A New Age” (DreamWorks Animation/Universal Pictures)
“Onward” (Pixar Amination Studios/Disney)
“Over the Moon” (Netflix)
“Soul” (Pixar Animation Studios/Disney)
“Wolfwalkers” (Cartoon Saloon/Apple TV+)

Best Foreign Language Film
“Another Round” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
“La Llorona” (Shudder)
“The Life Ahead” (Netflix)
“Minari” (A24)
“Two of Us” (Magnolia Pictures)


Best Television Series – Drama
“The Crown” (Netflix)
“Lovecraft Country” (HBO)
“The Mandalorian” (Disney Plus)
“Ozark” (Netflix)
“Ratched” (Netflix)

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy
“Emily in Paris” (Netflix)
“The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max)
“The Great” (Hulu)
“Schitt’s Creek” (Pop)
“Ted Lasso” (Apple TV+)

Best Actor in a Television Series – Drama
Jason Bateman (“Ozark”)
Josh O’Connor (“The Crown”)
Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”)
Al Pacino (“Hunters”)
Matthew Rhys (“Perry Mason”)

Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama
Olivia Colman (“The Crown”)
Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”)
Emma Corrin (“The Crown”)
Laura Linney (“Ozark”)
Sarah Paulson (“Ratched”)

Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy
Don Cheadle (“Black Monday”)
Nicholas Hoult (“The Great”)
Eugene Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”)
Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Lasso”)
Ramy Youssef (“Ramy”)

Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy
Lily Collins (“Emily in Paris”)
Kaley Cuoco (“The Flight Attendant”)
Elle Fanning (“The Great”)
Jane Levy (“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”)
Catherine O’Hara (“Schitt’s Creek”)

Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
“Normal People” (Hulu/BBC)
“The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix)
“Small Axe” (Amazon Prime Video/BBC)
“The Undoing” (HBO)
“Unorthodox” (Netflix)

Best Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Bryan Cranston (“Your Honor”)
Jeff Daniels (“The Comey Rule”)
Hugh Grant (“The Undoing”)
Ethan Hawke (“The Good Lord Bird”)
Mark Ruffalo (“I Know This Much Is True”)

Best Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Cate Blanchett (“Mrs. America”)
Daisy Edgar-Jones (“Normal People”)
Shira Haas (“Unorthodox”)
Nicole Kidman (“The Undoing”)
Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”)

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
John Boyega (“Small Axe”)
Brendan Gleeson (“The Comey Rule”)
Dan Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”)
Jim Parsons (“Hollywood”)
Donald Sutherland (“The Undoing”)

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Gillian Anderson (“The Crown”)
Helena Bonham Carter (“The Crown”)
Julia Garner (“Ozark”)
Annie Murphy (“Schitt’s Creek”)
Cynthia Nixon (“Ratched”)

Review: ‘Promising Young Woman,’ starring Carey Mulligan

December 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Carey Mulligan in “Promising Young Woman” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“Promising Young Woman”

Directed by Emerald Fennell

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramedy film “Promising Young Woman” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman who dropped out of medical school because of a past trauma takes out her anger on unsuspecting people who are directly or indirectly related to this trauma.

Culture Audience: “Promising Young Woman” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a dark comedic twist on revenge stories.

Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham in “Promising Young Woman” (Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features)

It would be easy to assume that “Promising You Woman” is an angry feminist film where a woman pretends to be very drunk at different nightclubs, entices predatory men into trying to take advantage of her sexually, and then humiliates them when she reveals that she’s not drunk and that she just wanted to expose how these supposedly “nice” guys aren’t so nice after all. That’s what happens for a great deal of the movie and what’s shown in the movie’s trailer. But “Promising Young Woman” is not what it first appears to be, just like the movie’s central character Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas (played by Carey Mulligan), the smart but deeply troubled woman who’s hell-bent on a personal agenda for these potentially dangerous sexual games.

“Promising Young Woman” is the first feature film written and directed by Emerald Fennell, a multitalented entertainer who is also an actress. (Fennell portrays Camilla Parker Bowles in Netflix’s “The Crown” series and has an uncredited cameo in “Promising Young Woman” as a makeup tutorial YouTuber.) The story of “Promising Young Woman” takes place in an unnamed U.S. city that could represent any middle-class American suburb. As the story unfolds, viewers find out that Cassie was a talented student in medical school at the fictional Forrest Union University, when she abruptly dropped out because of something traumatic that still haunts her.

When this story takes place, it’s been seven years since Cassie has dropped out of medical school. She turns 30 years old during the course of this story, but it seems as if she doesn’t want to celebrate this milestone birthday or even be reminded of it. That’s because her life is stuck in a rut. It’s implied that Cassie has issues affecting her mental health.

By day, she works in a small coffee shop that’s owned by her sassy boss Gail (played by Laverne Cox), who doesn’t judge Cassie (who’s a sarcastic loner), except in believing that Cassie should be more optimistic about love and dating. Cassie is an only child who still lives with her parents Susan (played by Jennifer Coolidge) and Stanley (played by Clancy Brown), who are worried about Cassie’s life being at a standstill.

Susan is more vocally upset over it than Stanley is, because on Cassie’s 30th birthday (which Cassie claims to have forgotten, but her parents haven’t), Susan yells at Cassie in a moment of anger: “You don’t have any boyfriends! You don’t have any friends!” Cassie’s favorite color is pink, and the way her bedroom is decorated indicates that a big part of herself doesn’t want to grow up.

Stanley is more compassionate and accepting than Susan is about their daughter. He refuses to say any harsh words to Cassie and tries to encourage her to be the best person she can be. However, for Cassie’s 30th birthday, her parents give her a pink suitcase, as a not-so-subtle way of telling her that they really would like her to move out and get her own place.

At night, Cassie has a secret life of going to nightclubs and pretending to be so drunk that she can barely stand or remember her name. A man at the nightclub usually approaches her, with the pretense of being a “gentleman” who will “take care of her,” and escorts her back to his place. He inevitably tries to have sex with Cassie, who will protest and say no, but he will persist and maybe start to remove some of her clothing. Cassie will then shock him by revealing that she’s not drunk at all and that he can’t have sex with her.

Depending on the situation, Cassie will usually humiliate the guy by letting him know that he almost raped her. He usually reacts with surprise over being caught, denial over being labeled as a sexual abuser, and almost always anger by accusing Cassie of “tricking” or “trapping” him. Cassie then goes home and records each incident in a journal, by checking off each encounter with hangman numerical symbols. (These numerical symbols are shown in pink coloring at pivotal points in the story.)

In the beginning of the movie, Cassie is seen playing this game in two separate incidents: First, it’s with a guy named Jerry (played by Adam Brody), who is egged on by the pals he’s with at the nightclub to take advantage of her. Cassie also plays this game with a cocaine-snorting nerdy creep named Neil (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who tries to blame his predatory actions on the cocaine.

Why is Cassie putting herself in these situations? She’s not an undercover cop trying to bust potential rapists. She’s acting out her own type of justice for something involving a sexual assault that happened when she was in medical school. It’s eventually revealed in the movie who was assaulted, what happened and who was responsible.

While Cassie is leading this double life, a customer comes into the coffee shop one day, and he changes Cassie’s outlook on possibly opening up her heart to romance. A former medical school classmate named Ryan (played by Bo Burnham), who is now a pediatric surgeon, is very surprised to see Cassie working in a coffee shop because he thought she would be doing something more prestigious with her life. Ryan immediately stammers and makes a profuse apology to Cassie when he realizes that he had a very condescending reaction to her job.

When Cassie asks him if he wants milk in his coffee, Ryan says, “You can spit in it. I deserve it.” Cassie obliges and spits in his coffee, which Ryan then drinks. It sets the tone for the rest of the relationship, where Ryan is awkward and eager to impress Cassie, while she is coolly sarcastic and hard to read about what she might be really feeling. Ryan tells Cassie that he’s had a crush on her since medical school. He asks her out on a date. She ignores his attempts to court her, until she says yes.

Cassie and Ryan’s budding romance has a dark cloud over it though. Cassie has become secretly consumed with the news that a former medical school classmate named Al Monroe is getting married. She finds out about the upcoming wedding on social media. Al Monroe’s name seems to trigger Cassie on a path that leads to her reliving the trauma she experienced in medical school.

Cassie had a best friend at the time named Nina Fisher, whom she knew since childhood, and they were like sisters to each other. Nina’s name is often brought up in the story in relation to Cassie’s experiences in medical school. Nina and Cassie had the type of friendship where people described Cassie and Nina as “inseparable.”

Some other people from Cassie’s past are in the story, including Madison McPhee (played by Alison Brie), who was a close friend of Cassie and Nina. All three of them were in medical school at the same university. Cassie also visits Nina’s mother Mrs. Fisher (played by Molly Shannon), Forrest Union University’s Dean Elizabeth Walker (played by Connie Britton) and an attorney named Jordan (played by Alfred Molina).

“Promising Young Woman” has moments of being a dramatic thriller (when it comes to Cassie’s nocturnal activities) and a romantic comedy (when it comes to Cassie and Ryan’s relationship), but it becomes clear as the story goes on that the overall tone of the story is a dark satire of how society often handles the complicated issues of sexual assault. The movie shows in realistic ways that women can be just as cruel as men when it comes to blaming and shaming victims of sexual assault.

It’s important to point that out because “Promising Young Woman” is not a man-bashing movie. Rather, the movie accurately shows how people can often blur the lines of what constitutes a sexual assault when intoxication from drugs or alcohol is involved in the incident. Was there consent given because inhibitions were lowered due to intoxication, or was consent taken away because someone wasn’t thinking clearly due to intoxication?

There’s also a culture of complicity and denial when someone accused of sexual assault has a certain “respectable” public image and is considered to be “too nice” to ever be the type of person who would commit this crime. At the same time, in most countries, the law is to consider someone innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. At what point should an accused person be judged by public opinion when that person hasn’t been arrested or convicted of the crime? There are no easy answers in many cases.

And what about people who witness a crime but do nothing about it? How guilty are they and how harshly should they be judged? Those are questions that will make this movie’s viewers think about all the past and present actions of certain characters, as “Promising Young Woman” reveals more of Cassie’s background and how it’s linked to certain people in the story.

“Promising Young Woman” has some interesting soundtrack music choices that successfully demonstrate the dichotomous lifestyle and mindset of Cassie. Two dance-pop songs in particular are put to great use in separate scenes. Britney Spears’ 2003 hit “Toxic” is heard when Cassie goes on the prowl in a pivotal part of the movie. Paris Hilton’s 2006 hit “Stars Are Blind” is heard when Cassie and Ryan playfully stroll through a drugstore and act like teenagers as they sing along to the song when it’s playing over the drugstore loudspeakers.

“Toxic” and “Stars Are Blind” are clever song choices, because of the pop culture context and how it relates to Cassie’s character. Spears and Hilton, who used to be close friends, had “party girl” images when these songs were released. (Spears had her notorious meltdown a few years after “Toxic” was a hit.) Both songs were released during Cassie’s teenage years, when Spears and Hilton probably would’ve made big impressions on Cassie and Nina, who was Cassie’s best friend from childhood.

“Stars Are Blind” and “Toxic” at first seem to be lightweight pop songs, but the lyrics have deeper meaning in the context of this story. As the public now knows, the fun-loving party image presented by Hilton and Spears during their tabloid heyday masked deep-seated emotional problems. It would be easy to speculate that these songs also represent the turbulent emotional journey that Cassie has been on too. She might have imagined as a teenager when these songs were hits that she would also be a fun-loving party girl in her 20s, but her carefree spirit was shattered and she’s been left with disillusionment and broken dreams.

Mulligan gives a memorable and effective performance as Cassie, who doesn’t see herself as a heroine as much as an emotionally damaged crusader. Burnham also shows a certain nuance in his role as the “nice guy” who’s able to thaw Cassie’s cynical heart. The story unfolds in layers, and there are some unexpected twists that upend the usual expectations that viewers might have for movies that cover issues related to sexual assault.

The fact that “Promising Young Woman” is bold enough to approach the subject matter in a satirical tone without making it an offensive mockery of sexual assault is an unusual and tricky feat. Is it an empowering feminist film? Is it too dark to be enjoyable, or is it too comical to be taken seriously? The best thing about the movie is that regardless of how it’s interpreted, it will make an unforgettable impact on people who watch it.

Focus Features released “Promising Young Woman” in U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2020. The movie is set for release on VOD on January 15, 2021; on digital on March 2, 2021; and on Blu-ray and DVD on March 16, 2021.

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