The 2021 Oscars: A Reading List

April 19, 2021 | Viveca

Comments (0)

The 93rd Academy Awards will be televised on April 25, 2021. This year's Oscars will definitely be different. For many, that's a good thing.

After years of criticism, this year's nominees are the most diverse to date. There are many firsts:

  • Steven Yuen is the first Asian-American to be nominated for Best Actor
  • Chloé Zhao is the first Asian-American woman to be nominated for Best Director
  • Riz Ahmed is the first Muslim to receive a Best Actor nomination.


Additionally, five Black actors received Oscar nominations: Chadwick Boseman, Andra Day, Viola Davis, Daniel Kaluuya, Leslie Odom Jr. and LaKeith Stanfield. While there is still a long way to go in recognizing and supporting diverse talent, the 2021 trends are promising. 

Also promising: this year's Oscar broadcast will diverge from its traditional format, especially with Stephen Soderbergh producing the ceremony. This year's biggest Oscar snubs? Many critics cite Spike Lee and Delroy Lindo who were passed over for Da Five Bloods.

Next Sunday: stay home, get your popcorn, and use this handy ballot to track the nominees and winners (PDF). Don't forget to place holds on these great reads that inspired many of the 2021 Oscar nominations.


Our Annual Oscar Reading List

Chasing the Scream The United States Vs Billie Holiday Poster

Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari / The United States vs. Billie Holiday directed by Lee Daniels

Hari's book examines the history of the United States' war on drugs through an equity lens – particularly with its ongoing effect on racialized communities. 

Oscar nomination: Best Actress (Andra Day)


Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Poster

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom by August Wilson / Ma Rainey's Black Bottom directed by George C. Wolfe

Based on August Wilson's 1982 award-winning play about a recording session with blues singer, Ma Rainey, the film explores issues around the exploitation of Black artists. This was Chadwick Boseman's last film – he died shortly after filming. 

Oscar nominations: Best Actor (Chadwick Boseman), Best Actress (Viola Davis), Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design


Nomadland Nomadland Poster

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder / Nomadland directed by Chloé Zhao

Journalist Jessica Bruder went on the road with older Americans who travel across the US in campers surviving on precarious, seasonal work – work that often includes working at Amazon.

Oscar nominations: Best Actress (Frances McDormand), Cinematography, Best Director, Film Editing, Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay


News of the World News of the World Poster
News of the World by Paulette Jiles / News of the World directed by Paul Greengrass

Jiles' 2016 novel is about a young hostage released by the Kiowa tribe who killed her family. A soldier (Hanks) is assigned to accompany her on the dangerous journey to return her to her existing family. Author and poet Paulette Jiles lived for many years in Canada. 

Oscar nominations: Cinematography, Original Score, Production Design, Sound


Hillbilly Elegy Hillbilly Elegy Poster
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance / Hillbilly Elegy directed by Ron Howard

J.D. Vance's 2016 critically-acclaimed memoir recounts his struggle to overcome poverty and become a Yale Law school graduate. Some argue that Vance's memoir not only failed to properly analyze the role that systemic racism played in his white working-class community, but that it actually stigmatized the poor. 

Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close), Makeup and Hairstyling


Good Morning  Midnight Midnight Sky Poster

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton / The Midnight Sky directed by George Clooney

Brooks-Dalton critically-acclaimed debut 2016 novel examines grief, loss, and abandonment amidst an apocalypse. Clooney's direction garnered mixed reviews, but his performance was generally well-received. 

Oscar nominations: Visual Effects


Emma Emma Poster

Emma by Jane Austen / Emma directed by Autumn de Wilde

Based on Austen's classic 1816 novel of manners, this latest iteration has Ana Taylor-Jones of television series, The Queen's Gambit, in the titular role. 

Oscar nominations: Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling



Trial of the Chicago Seven

The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin / The Trial of the Chicago 7 directed by Aaron Sorkin

Check out the screenplay of Sorkin's legal/historical drama about the trial of anti-Vietnam war protestors who were accused of inciting riots during the 1968 Democratic convention. Sacha Baron Cohen is nominated for his (non-Borat) dramatic role as activist Abbie Hoffman.

Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Sacha Baron Cohen), Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Song, Best Picture, Original Screenplay



Tenet: The Complete Screenplay by Christopher Nolan / Tenet directed by Christopher Nolan

Nolan, of Inception fame, once again ventures into dizzying timelines and temporal anomalies with John David Washington starring as the protagonist. 

Oscar nominations: Production Design, Visual Effects


Oscar Nominated Movies

We also have some Oscar nominated films that are not based on books but are available to place holds on.

Promising Young Woman

A Promising Young Woman directed by Emerald Fennell

Oscar nominations: Best Actress (Carey Mulligan), Best Director, Film Editing, Best Picture, Original Screenplay


The Mole Agent

The Mole Agent directed by Maite Alberdi

Oscar nominations: Documentary Feature



Soul directed by Peter Docter with Kemp Powers

Oscar nominations: Animated Feature Film, Original Score, Sound


Related Links


Have you read any of the books in this list? Or watched any of the movies? Which ones are you most excited to see win? Share below in the comments.