When Brad Pitt announced that 73-year-old Yuh-Jung Youn had won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Soonja, the matriarchal grandmother in the charming hit movie Minari, the diminutive figure made her way to the stage, and began her acceptance address with the words, “Mr Brad Pitt, finally, nice to meet you. Where were you while we were filming in Tulsa?”
Pitt, who was a producer on Minari, beamed from the wings.
Youn, who wore a simple black dress and had her grey hair swept elegantly into a bun, complimented the other nominees, and said it was difficult to believe her win.
“How can I win over Glenn Close… Maybe I’m a little bit luckier than you,” she said.
Youn proceeded to forgive Europeans for mispronouncing her name, and thanked “my two boys, who make me go out and work”.
“This is the result, because mummy works so hard,” she said, picking up the golden trophy from the lectern.
Her hilarious, cheeky address was the most memorable of the evening, and won the audience over.
But Youn was not the only older actor to bring home the famous statue at the 2021 Academy Awards, with other stories about what it means to be an older person and ageing were also recognised by the Academy.
Sir Anthony Hopkins, who is 83, won Best Actor for his portrayal of a man living with dementia in the film The Father, making him the oldest actor ever to win an Oscar.
“At 83 years of age, I did not expect to win this award,” said Hopkins, accepting his prize from Wales via Instagram. “I feel very privileged and honoured.”
The Father is about a man, played by Hopkins, in the early stages of dementia. It cleverly portrays the man’s shifting, uncertain reality, and the family’s struggle to cope with the changes.
In his acceptance speech Hopkins paid tribute to Chadwick Boseman, who was nominated for an Oscar alongside Hopkins for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Boseman, who passed away this year at the age of 43 from colon cancer, was widely expected to win.
Best Picture this year went to Nomadland, a film about a woman in her 60s who loses everything in the global financial crisis, and embarks on a journey through the American west living out of a van.
Frances McDormand, who is 63, won best actress for her role as Fern, the modern-day nomad.
Nomadland shows how economic disruptions impact at the personal level. It is a story about sadness, loss and loneliness, but McDormand’s character maintains her openness and optimism.
The film Colette, about the last surviving member of the French Resistance, won the Oscar for best short documentary.
The film follows 90-year-old Colette Marin-Catherine as she travels with a history student to the German-forced labour camp where her brother was killed during WWII. Until then, Colette had refused to set foot in Germany. The film shows how sometimes revisiting the past can be painful, but it can help to move forward.
A film about an aged care home was nominated in the feature documentary category.
A Chilean film, The Mole Agent is a documentary about a spy in a nursing home. An 83-year-old man poses as a resident to see if he can uncover evidence of abuse. What begins as an undercover operation, ends up a lament on isolation and loneliness, which for viewers is even more poignant in the time of COVID-19.
It’s pleasing to see the Academy acknowledge older actors and celebrate films about ageing, particularly this year, which has been so difficult for the older generations.
Nowhere is it more evident that our culture worships youth than in Hollywood, but this year’s awards showed older people still have what it takes – and people are watching and listening.
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