The award-winning actress had a heartfelt reason for letting out a howl as she accepted the Best Picture Oscar for Nomadland

Frances McDormand's unique acceptance speech at the 2021 Academy Awards on Sunday had a very special meaning behind it.

The actress, 63, accepted the Best Picture Oscar for her film Nomadland when she surprised everyone by letting out a realistic wolf howl onstage as the audience applauded.

"We give this one to our wolf," McDormand said as she performed the gesture.

Speaking to reporters backstage after the show, director Chloé Zhao — who won the Best Director Oscar earlier in the night — clarified that McDormand's howl was a tribute to Michael Wolf Snyder, a production sound mixer on the film, who died at 35 earlier this year.

"We unfortunately lost him recently, and his name is Wolf, and he's the production sound mixer both on my previous film, The Rider, and Nomadland, so he's part of the family," said Zhao. "So that howling to the moon is for Wolf."

Zhao continued: "My happiest moment tonight is when Fran won — I think sometimes people might not know what she had done out there, you know, as a producer, as an actress, and how much, how open and vulnerable she has been, and how much it helped me to make this movie, and help out the nomads to feel comfortable on set and she really is Nomadland. So I'm so happy, so happy, she got that award."

Frances McDormand
Frances McDormand at the 2021 Oscars
| Credit: Todd Wawrychuk / A.M.P.A.S.

Snyder's death was confirmed last month in a Facebook message from his father David that was shared by Snyder's aunt, Cathy Snyder. David, a psychiatrist, said in the post that his son died by suicide and had been struggling with depression for years.

David said that that Snyder "was certainly thrilled" over the flurry of award nominations Nomadland received prior to his death. "Unfortunately, we believe he was gone before getting to see the Golden Globe awards," he said.

McDormand paid tribute to Snyder in a statement to Variety and The Hollywood Reporter at the time. "Wolf recorded our heart beats. Our every breath. For me, he is Nomadland," McDormand said.

Zhao also honored Snyder, remembering their dynamics together on the sets of Nomadland and 2017's The Rider. "I will always miss him. He would always be with me on set, after each take, and in the silence of every room tone. See you down the road, my friend."

Michael Wolf Snyder
Michael Wolf Snyder
| Credit: Facebook
Michael Wolf Snyder
Michael Wolf Snyder
| Credit: Facebook

Nomadland won the most awards of this year's Oscars with three: one for Best Picture, one for Best Director (Zhao) and one for Best Actress (McDormand). The film was the clear favorite heading into the night, with five nominations.

The movie follows McDormand's Fern, who chooses to live a nomadic lifestyle while traveling through the American West after losing her husband and her life in a mining town that dissolves after the 2008 recession. 

Nomadland is now playing in select theaters and streaming on Hulu.

f you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go