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Oscars 2021: Best Costume Design Predictions

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," “Mank,” and “Mulan" lead the way in costume design.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Netflix

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Netflix

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The Oscar race for costume design is more competitive than ever, with five Black-themed period pieces (“Da 5 Bloods,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “One Night in Miami,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) vying for nominations along with the black-and-white “Mank,” the opulent “Mulan,” and the eye-popping “Emma.”

However, George C. Wolfe’s August Wilson adaptation, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” is the clear frontrunner, given Viola Davis’ powerful performance as the trailblazing ’20s blues singer, who flaunted her flashy wardrobe to convey a sexy, subversive image. The 89-year-old Oscar-winning costume designer, Ann Roth (“The English Patient”), put Davis in a rubber suit modeled after Aretha Franklin, and assembled an array of bold and durable outfits (including flowing berry-red and blue velvet dresses). But, crucially, Roth also helped out hair department head Mia Neal and makeup stylist Sergio Lopez Rivera by informing them that Rainey made her wigs out of horsehair and had a mouthful of gold teeth.

Costume designer Trish Summerville studied ’30s Hollywood fashions for David Fincher’s “Mank,” about sardonic, alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) struggling to churn out a first draft of “Citizen Kane.” This included fitting Amanda Seyfried as starlet and Hearst Castle hostess Marion Davies (the standout is the gold lame dress for Louis B. Mayer’s birthday party), along with the male-dominated studio executives. For Oldman’s Mank, though, who was not a sharp dresser, she gave him a couple of trusty suits. Of course, the most important aspect of Summerville’s work was determining the right tones for black-and-white. For that, she was assisted by her iPhone’s monochromatic setting, and devised a wardrobe built around pastels, with plenty of lavenders, greens, purples, and burgundies.

"Mank"

Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman in “Mank”

Netflix

For Disney’s lavish, live-action reimagining of “Mulan,” costume designer Bina Daigeler concentrated on the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) for its use of primary colors, fabrics (cotton, silk, and leather), and symbols (clouds and animals). Director Niki Caro mounted an epic movie that accentuates the emotional strength of Mulan (Liu Yifei), and Daigeler emphasized that in the costumes. The lilac Hanfu wrap dress became perfect for the matchmaking costume, with its intricately embroidered symbols, and Mulan’s red tunic and battle armor were form-fitted to comply with the lyricism of the battle sequences.

Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne (“Elizabeth: The Golden Age”) returned to tackling Jane Austen with “Emma,” directed by Autumn de Wilde. But, unlike her previous work on “Persuasion,” Byrne was inspired by an infusion of color. In fact, the romcom, with Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) as the titular matchmaker, boldly embraces color and shape at a time when the 19th century Regency period underwent radical changes in female fashion. The costume designer was stirred by the use of inventive color combinations and fabric mixtures as symbols of individuality and fun. And Emma undergoes striking wardrobe changes in every scene as part of her character arc. But the long yellow jacket became an instant favorite.

Meanwhile, for Regina King’s “One Night in Miami,” costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck created the distinctive looks of Black legends Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). They conveyed different vibes in keeping with their images: scholarly for Malcolm X, casual for Clay, formal for Brown, and stylish for Cooke.

For Paul Greengrass’ “News of the World,” the post-Civil War western, Oscar-winning costume designer Mark Bridges (“The Phantom Thread” and “The Artist”) fit Confederate vet Tom Hanks into a wardrobe that conveyed personal significance, including a luxurious frock coat for his news readings that made him appear dignified.

Frontrunners
“Emma”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
“Mank”
“Mulan”
“One Night in Miami”

Contenders
“Ammonite”
“Da 5 Bloods”
“News of the World”
“Promising Young Woman”
“The Personal History of David Copperfield”
“The Prom”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”
“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”

Long Shots
“Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey”
“Hillbilly Elegy”
“Judas and the Black Messiah”
“Pinocchio”

Key Oscar Indicators

The Academy’s costume design branch currently has 183 members, of which 167 are active and 16 are retired. The last black-and-white costume design winner was Mark Bridges for “The Artist” (2011). Unlike the Academy, the Costume Designers Guild separates its film awards by contemporary, period, and fantasy.

Key Dates

Monday, February 1, 2021
Preliminary Oscar voting begins

Wednesday, February 10, 2021
CDGA nomination ballot voting opens online at 6:00 a.m. PST

Wednesday, February 24, 2021
CDGA nomination ballots voting close at 5:00 p.m. PST

Sunday, February 28, 2021
Submission deadline for the Oscars

Thursday, March 4, 2021
Official announcement of 23rd CDGA nominees to the press

Friday, March 5, 2021
Oscar nominations voting begins

Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Oscar nominations voting ends 5:00 p.m. PST

Monday, March 15, 2021
Oscar nominations announced

Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Final CDGA ballot voting opens online 6:00 a.m. PST

Monday, March 29, 2021
Final CDGA ballot voting closes at 5:00 p.m. PST

Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Winners announced at the 23rd CDG Awards (a combination live and streaming event)

Thursday, April 15, 2021
Oscar Nominees Luncheon
Final Oscar voting begins

Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Final Oscar voting ends

Sunday, April 25, 2021
Winners announced at the 93rd Academy Awards (Oscars)

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