The 93rd Academy Awards nominations have been announced! Here’s what we know about the first time acting nominees.

Written by: Kelly Levine – March 15th, 2021 8:15 pm pst

This year’s Academy Award nominations have just been announced and it’s clear this year is going to be especially unique. For the first time in Academy history two women, Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao and Promising Young Woman’s Emerald Fennell, are nominated for the coveted spot of Best Director. Even more historical achievements were made in the acting category bringing about breakout stars and standout performances.  

Maria Bakalova

Nominated for her performance in the 2020 comedy Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Maria Bakalova is now the first Bulgarian to receive such a high honor from the Academy. Maria began her career majoring in drama at the Krastyo Sarafov National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia. Soon after graduating, Bakalova began sending in audition tapes to Hollywood in the hopes of starting a career. Unbeknownst to her, one of her tapes ended up in the hands of Sacha Baron Cohen who was currently on the hunt for an unknown actress to play his daughter in the upcoming Borat sequel. Extremely impressed by her tape, producers invited Bakalova to London where she was admittedly worried this was all a scam at her expense. However, upon arriving in London she met with Baron Cohen and was selected for the part out of six hundred applicants. When Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was released, critics praised Maria’s incredibly brave debut performance including a now infamous scene involving former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani. Among her supporters was Sacha Baron-Cohen himself who heavily campaigned for Bakalova’s Oscar nomination. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is certainly not the last we will be seeing of Maria Bakalova. The breakout star is already hard at work on her next project, a Judd Apatow directed film called The Bubble. Starring other heavyweights like Pedro Pascal and Karen Gillan, The Bubble, is a comedy that follows a group of actors and actresses stuck inside a pandemic bubble at a hotel attempting to complete a film. 

Youn Yuh-jung

Like the previously mentioned Maria Bakalova, Youn Yuh-jung has made history at this year’s Academy Awards for her role in Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari. The seventy three year old veteran performer is now the first South Korean and the fourth Asian actress to get a nod in the acting category from the Oscars. If you haven’t heard Youn Yuh-jung’s name before then this is the perfect opportunity to expand your horizons. Yuh-jung enjoyed a long and fruitful career in South Korea and thrived in its film scene. She made her acting debut in 1971’s Woman of Fire playing a sultry femme fatale. Upon the release of Woman of Fire, Youn Yuh-jung’s performance was highly praised and she earned best actress prizes from South Korea’s big film awards. Since then, Youn Yuh-jung has enjoyed a steady career that is now entering an entirely new phase. Her work as an eccentric livewire grandmother who doesn’t cook and bake but loves watching wrestling and playing cards in Minari has captured the hearts of audiences all over the world. Currently, the actress is filming Pachinko, a TV series adaptation of the bestselling novel with the same name by Korean American author Lee Min-jin and is also hosting Youn’s Stay, a popular reality series in which she and other Korean celebrities run a pop-up guesthouse for foreigners. 

Paul Raci

Despite finding his breakout role in 2020’s The Sound of Metal as the owner of a substance abuse treatment facility for the deaf, Paul Raci has been in the acting game for years. Getting his start in the Chicago theater scene, Raci made a long term career as a character actor appearing in shows like Parks and Recreation, Goliath and Baskets. As for The Sound of Metal, which tells the tale of a heavy metal drummer losing his hearing, it was Raci’s own experience with deafness that led him to take part in the project. Both of Raci’s parents were deaf, which meant Raci quickly picked fluency in American Sign Language and made advocating for disabled rights a lifelong mission. While The Sound of Metal’s director Darius Marder was initially looking for a deaf actor to play the role, he widened his search to CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults) and found Raci. It was his deep connection to not only the character he was playing, but also the entire deaf community that endeared audiences to Raci and earned him his first Oscar nomination. 

Lakeith Stanfield

Lakeith Stanfield has been one to watch since his debut in 2013’s Short Term 12 as Marcus, a troubled teenager on the verge of adulthood. Since then, the twenty nine year old actor has slowly been carving himself a spot in Hollywood with breakout roles in films like Get Out, Sorry to Bother You, and Uncut Gems. He hasn’t just been confined to the big screen either as he’s earned massive critical acclaim for his performance in Donald Glover’s Atlanta and also for his voice acting work in Netflix’s Bojack Horseman. Now in Judas and the Black Messiah, Lakeith Stanfield garners his first Oscar nomination as William “Bill” O’Neal, an FBI informant who infiltrates the Black Panther Party, but upon becoming close with its leader Fred Hampton played by Daniel Kaluuya, he begins to second guess his convictions. Along with praising the film itself, critics especially lauded the chemistry between Kaluuya (who was also nominated this year) and Stanfield. Same as ever, Lakeith Stanfield remains hard at work on his next slew of projects including a role in the all black western film The Harder They Fall and lending his voice again to the Netflix anime series Yasuke

Riz Ahmed

Anyone who’s a fan of anything superhero or sci-fi has definitely seen Riz Ahmed before. Star Wars fans fell in love with the British Pakistani actor when he portrayed Bodhi Rook in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and he also starred as the villain in 2018’s Venom. Through his entire career, Ahmed has advocated heavily for representation of Muslim characters and actors on film. In 2018, Dr. Sadia Habib and Shaf Choudry, two friends from the United Kingdom invented their own spin on the Bechdel test called the Riz test meant to identify the nature of Muslim representation in film and TV. This was inspired by Riz Ahmed’s advocacy and a speech given by Ahmed in 2017 at the House of Commons, in which he addressed what he views as a lack of diversity in film and television. Now, Ahmed makes Academy history as the first Muslim to be nominated for the Best Actor award for his performance in The Sound of Metal. As a drummer losing his hearing desperate to find his place in the world, Ahmed’s sensitive and believable portrayal of a man going deaf earned him universal acclaim. In the same year, Ahmed also executive produced the animated documentary film Flee which made its international debut at the Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim. He also was nominated and won in the best debut screenwriter category for the film Mogul Mowgli at the delayed British Independent Film Awards 2020. Riz Ahmed’s next acting role will be in the upcoming British sci-fi thriller film Invasion. While plot details are kept under wraps for now, we know Ahmed will be sharing the screen with another Oscar darling Octavia Spencer. 

Steven Yeun

Any and all The Walking Dead fans are probably jumping for joy today at the news of Steven Yeun’s first Oscar nomination. For seven seasons, Yeun portrayed fan favorite character Glenn Rhee, who went from plucky pizza delivery boy to an action hero and romantic lead. Many credited the initial success of The Walking Dead (which became the highest-rated series in cable television history) to actors like Yeun who were able to connect deeply with audiences amidst all the violence. After leaving The Walking Dead, Steven Yeun decided to pursue a film career with roles in Bong Joon Ho’s (eventual director of Parasite) Okja  and Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You. Like Lakeith Stanfield, Steven Yeun is also very involved in the voice acting world, lending his voice to Tuca & Bertie and The Legend of Korra. However, it was his role in the South Korean film Burning that put Yeun on the map as a serious awards contender. Playing the mysterious and seductive Ben, his performance earned him critical acclaim including winning him the Best Supporting Actor at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, Toronto Film Critics Association Awards 2018, Florida Film Critics Circle Awards 2018, and 2018 National Society of Film Critics Awards. In Minari, which he also executive produced, Steven Yeun stars as the patriarch of a Korean immigrant family trying to become farmers in Arkansas. Yeun was incredibly candid about how his own experiences as an immigrant lended to his performance making him the first Asian-American performer to ever be recognized in the Lead Actor category. Next up for Yeun will be a role in Stephen Karam’s award-winning one-act play adaptation The Humans and he will be reuniting with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman for an adaptation of another one of his comic book series Invincible

Andra Day

Singer and songwriter Andra Day is currently the frontrunner for the Best Actress prize after picking up the award at the Golden Globes. Discovered by Stevie Wonder’s then wife, Kai Millard, while performing in a strip mall, Day has made her career strictly focused on music. In 2015 she released her first album Cheers to the Fall to positive reception and rapper Common on the original song “Stand Up for Something.” In her debut film appearance, Day portrays the legendary Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. The film tracks Holiday in the 1940s, where she is targeted by the government in an effort to racialize the war on drugs. Day has always had a close personal connection to Billie Holiday. She even revealed Holiday is the inspiration behind her stage name whose nickname was “Lady Day.” Critics heaped scores of praise onto the first time actress saying her performance truly captures Billie in a way no other could. To prepare for the role, Day lost nearly forty pounds and took up drinking and smoking in order to summon Billie’s trauma. 

 Vanessa Kirby

You might recognize Vanessa Kirby for her role as a young Princess Margaret in the first two seasons of Netflix’s The Crown. Or if you’re an action fan, Fast and Furious: Hobbs & Shaw  might come to mind. Her latest role in Netflix’s Pieces of a Woman throws the actress in a striking new light. Many have already watched it as upon its digital release, it was the most-watched film over its first three days of release, and finished second overall in its debut weekend. Portraying a grieving mother reeling from a tragic home birth, Kirby’s performance was widely praised by critics. Vanessa Kirby even won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the highly prestigious Venice Film Festival and remains a strong contender in the Oscar race. For the foreseeable future Kirby plans to reprise her double role as Alanna Mitsopolis and White Widow in Mission: Impossible 7, and Mission: Impossible 8.

About The Author:

Kelly Levine is a screenwriting student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and an intern at AfterBuzz TV. She hopes to one day pursue a career in television writing and production. Kelly loves television, movies, and all things nerdy in pop culture!

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