See Which Oscars 2021-Nominated Films Are Based on True Stories

These 2021 Oscar-nominated movies were inspired by true stories and historical events 

01 of 08

Judas and the Black Messiah

Warner Bros. Pictures

Judas and the Black Messiah —which stars Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, both nominated for Best Supporting Actor — is based on a true story. Kaluuya stars as Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party.

In December 1969, Hampton was assassinated in a police raid after William O'Neal (who is portrayed by Stanfield) infiltrated the chapter and acted as an FBI informant. The film, nominated for Best Picture this year, follows true events to an extent, but chooses to focus on O'Neal as the Judas to Hampton's Black messiah, going for very personal portrayals of the men rather than focusing solely on the political.

02 of 08

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Trial of the Chicago 7

The Oscar-nominated film (up for Best Picture) is about, well, the 1969 trial of the Chicago Seven. That year, the federal government charged seven anti-Vietnam war activists — Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner — with conspiring to start a riot after protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Originally, the Chicago Seven were the Chicago Eight. The case against defendant Bobby Seales was declared a mistrial, but not before Seales was subject to racist treatment by the judge, who ordered him bound, gagged and chained to a chair after Seales called attention to the fact that his constitutional rights were being ignored, and called the judge "a bigot, a racist, and a fascist."

03 of 08


frances mcdormand
Francis McDormand in Nomadland. Courtesy Searchlight Pictures

Chloé Zhao's Nomadland, which is up for Best Picture, is partly true. It tells the story of a woman who travels across the United States after her husband dies, looking to make ends meet.

While the woman portrayed by Frances McDormand, Fern, is fictional, the movie is based on a 2017 nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. To lend to the authenticity of the film's subject matter, Zhao also used real-life nomads featured in Bruder's book to play fictional versions of themselves.

Zhao focused on three people from Bruder's book: Charlene Swankie, Linda May and Bob Wells. "I put a camera on them — my phone sometimes — and then just started chatting with them to see how they are with it," Zhao told PEOPLE. "And when that made sense, it was just about listening to their stories and then writing the characters for them."

04 of 08


steven yeun in Minari
Josh Ethan Johnson

Nominated for Best Picture, Lee Isaac Chung's Minari, which follows the story of a Korean family moving from California to Arkansas in pursuit of a better life, is based at least partly in truth.

In an essay penned for The Los Angeles Times, Chung says that he was inspired by a book by Willa Cather, My Ántonia, but after finding out the author's dying wish was that her stories would not be adapted into a screenplay, he decided to put to paper the elements of his own story that caused her book to resonate with him.

The director wrote of his experience penning the film, "As an exercise, I devoted an afternoon to writing my memories of childhood. I remembered our family's arrival at a single-wide trailer on an Ozark meadow and my mother's shock at learning that this would be our new home. I recalled the smell of freshly plowed soil and the way the color of it pleased my father. I remembered the creek where I threw rocks at snakes while my grandmother planted a Korean vegetable that grew without effort."

He added, "With each memory, I saw my life anew, as though the clouds had shifted over a field I had seen every day. After writing 80 memories, I sketched a narrative arc with themes about family, failure and rebirth."

05 of 08

The United States v. Billie Holiday'

Andra Day as Billie Holiday. Paramount Pictures

The United States v. Billie Holiday is based on the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, by Johann Hari. It follows the true story of how Holiday (Andra Day) was targeted by Harry Anslinger, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, (played by Garrett Hedlund) who was determined to crack down on the jazz community's drug use.

When Holiday, whose new song "Strange Fruit" described the racist act of lynching, would not back down from performing the song, Anslinger assigned Black agent Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) to bust her for using drugs.

When Holiday was eventually caught with drugs, she was put on trial, asking to be sent to a hospital to be treated for her addiction. She instead was sentenced to a year in prison. It would just be the start of the harassment she would endure at the hands of the FBI.

Day is nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of the legendary singer.

06 of 08

One Night in Miami

One Night in Miami
One Night in Miami. PATTI PERRET/Amazon Studios

One Night in Miami, which scored nominations for Best Original Song, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, is a fictionalized account of a meeting between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke in 1964.

After boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) won a match against Sonny Liston in February 1964, he and football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), civil rights leader Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) headed to Hampton House Motel in Miami.

The events in the film are dramatized, as there isn't an account of the conversations that occurred that night, but the next day, Clay announced that he had converted to Islam and would be adopting the name he would become well known for: Muhammad Ali.

07 of 08

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. David Lee/Netflix

Based on a play by August Wilson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is based in truth: Ma Rainey (played by nominee Viola Davis) was a real-life blues singer in the 1920s known as "the Mother of Blues," and the film's titular song is also real. She did also record with a band in Chicago, Illinois.

That is pretty much where the truth meets fiction, though, as the plot of the film, its character names and its compelling conflict is fictional. It's up for five Oscars, including Best Actress and Best Actor for Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, respectively.

08 of 08



Written by the late journalist Jack Fincher and directed by his son, David Fincher, Mank tells the tale of the alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, played by Gary Oldman, as he races to finish the screenplay for Citizen Kane, regarded as the greatest film ever made.

Mank gives a glimpse into the explosive feud between Mankiewicz and Orson Welles (played by Tom Burke) over Citizen Kane's authorship, which has long been disputed in real life as it is in the film. The movie is up for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

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