An unprecedented number of women and people of color are up for Oscars this year. And while nominees in acting and directing categories are grabbing all the headlines — Chloé Zhao! Emerald Fennell! Riz Ahmed! Steven Yeun! — there are more trailblazers to celebrate in the craft categories. EW gathered Jamika Wilson (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom), Coya Elliott (Soul), Michelle Couttolenc (Sound of Metal), and Genevieve Camilleri (Love and Monsters), for a talk about their first-ever nominations in a groundbreaking year. A common thread: The events of 2020 created fertile ground for change in the film industry — not just in the smaller, more intimate movies that had a chance to shine, but in the heightened awareness of inequities and an increased willingness to address them. 

"Being in quarantine brought a lot of awareness to so many things are far as Black Lives Matter [and] #MeToo. It just opens your eyes," says Wilson, who along with fellow Ma Rainey nominee Mia Neal, are the first-ever Black nominees in the Hair and Makeup category. "Actors are now speaking up and wanting more hairstylists in the trailer than can do their hair."

Adds Elliott, who was nominated in the Best Sound category (where only one woman in Oscar history has ever won): "We have clients now that are asking for more women on their sound crews, more women on the mixing board," says Elliott, whose previous credits include Toy Story 4 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. "As we move forward and there are more women in sound, then [hopefully] it'll just be a norm."

Awardist Craft Roundtable
Credit: David Lee/Netflix; Disney/Pixar; Everett Collection; Amazon Studios

The panelists also had advice for those who wanted to break into fields where they are a minority. "I do really want to take this opportunity to encourage other females in the industry to have the confidence to put their hand up and say Hey, I would like to be a supervisor," says Genevieve Camilleri, who was nominated in the VFX category (only two women have ever won previously). "Because I find that a lot of people I've met along the way, because [VFX] is so male dominated, they sort of play down their skills. Even though they're absolutely amazing artists."

One thing the panelists won't play down: Their excitement for this year's Oscars ceremony. "The phone was ringing like crazy and I [thought] no, no, no, I'm not ready for this," says Couttolenc on how she reacted to her nomination in the Best Sound category. "It's a shock, but I'm so grateful and excited, I can't believe it."

Watch the panel above, or listen to the full conversation below.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

Related content: