Priyanka Chopra and her husband, Nick Jonas, beamed in from London to announce the 2021 Oscar nominations on Monday. There was tons to celebrate, like how more than one woman was nominated for Best Director for the first time in the Academy Awards' 93-year history. But no awards slate is complete without a few head-scratchers, and in a big surprise, both LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya earned nods in the Best Supporting Actor category. Here's why that's weird: if neither of the men who play "Judas" and the "Black Messiah" in Judas and the Black Messiah were that movie's leads, who was?
In case you haven't seen the film (it left HBO Max on Sunday, March 14), Judas and the Black Messiah tells the true story of an FBI informant, William O'Neal (Stanfield), who infiltrated the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s to gather intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton (Kaluuya). They're indisputably the main characters of the movie, but since studios try to be strategic about picking up Oscar nods, Stanfield was promoted as the Lead Actor contender, while Academy members were asked to consider Kaluuya for Supporting. Curiously, Stanfield earned more votes in the Supporting Actor category, so both men wound up on that shortlist.
So who watched Judas and the Black Messiah and thought it was actually about J. Edgar Hoover, you might be wondering? It turns out other actors are the culprits behind this confusing categorization. You see, there are currently 9,362 eligible Oscar voters, and each belongs to one of 17 branches. Each branch nominates for its own category — for example, costume designers focus on their specialty and don't vote on, say, editing or directing. Similarly, actors nominate for the four acting categories. There are 1,363 actors eligible to vote this year, an uptick of 39 people from 2020.
To be fair, the Lead Actor category is rather stacked, between nods for Chadwick Boseman, Steven Yeun, and Riz Ahmed. It could be that voters felt Stanfield was more competitive in the Supporting category. All of that being said, the actor seems thrilled to be nominated for his first Oscar, no matter the particulars. You can bet your bottom dollar the internet is going to stew on this upset for a while longer, however.