Like every Oscars ceremony, 2019’s event contained its fair share of controversy. For reasons most of us will never comprehend, Bohemian Rhapsody came out on top in several categories, but no one dared utter the name of its director for obvious reasons. Many pundits and movie fans alike are also unhappy that Green Book had a successful night, and their criticisms are perfectly valid. But hopefully, these blemishes will not overshadow what was a very positive night in many ways.
Overall, the 91st Academy Awards will also go down in history as an evening of accomplished milestones and history being made for the right reasons. So, instead of dwelling on the negatives, let’s highlight some of the more feel-good moments and chalk this one up as a success in the grand scheme of things.
A Spike Lee Joint Finally Won a Big Award
Spike Lee has been blazing a trail through American cinema since he burst onto the scene with She’s Gotta Have It back in 1986 (following a Student Academy Award win for his NYU thesis film, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads). Throughout his career, he’s made a slew of movies that effectively address racial and social issues that are also funny, tragic, provocative, powerful, and beautifully cinematic. The fact that 1989’s Do the Right Thing was the only Lee joint to be nominated for an Oscar until this year’s ceremony is mind-boggling. Better late than never, though, right?
That said, BlackKklansman, which won Best Adapted Screenplay, was a no-brainer for this year’s prize. Despite being based on an actual undercover case from 1978, the film addresses America’s history of racism — from slavery to Charlottesville — and shows that not much has changed after all these years. It’s one of the most important movies in recent memory, but relevant films like these are Lee’s bread and butter. His movies don’t need awards to be recognized for their brilliance, but seeing one finally get some recognition on the big stage made for a wonderful Oscars moment.
Of course, Lee’s jump into Samuel L. Jackson’s arms, his fashionable homage to Prince, and the shade he threw at Green Book also made his speech one for the ages. On top of being an extraordinary filmmaker, he’s an entertaining personality who did not disappoint when given the podium.
A Great Night for Women
An impressive number of women were also given some deserved recognition for their contributions to cinema in 2018. In the women-centric acting categories, Olivia Colman won Best Actress for her performance in The Favourite, where she beat stiff competition from the likes of Lady Gaga and Glenn Close. Regina King won Best Supporting Actress for her role in If Beale Street Could Talk, which was one of several victories for women of color throughout the evening.
Hannah Beachler and Ruth Carter won non-acting Oscars for their work on Black Panther — for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design, respectively each becoming the first African-American woman to win in the category ever. Prior to this event, a black woman had not won an Oscar in any non-acting category in 35 years (the only one, even, was Irene Cara for the Flashdance theme in 1984). Therefore, two winning awards on the same night was rather groundbreaking and long overdue, to say the least.
Elsewhere, director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and producer Shannon Dill won Oscars for Best Documentary Feature for Free Solo, which the former co-directed with her husband Jimmy Chin. Domee Shi and Becky Neiman won Best Animated Short for Pixar’s Bao, making the former the first woman of color to win this award while telling a personal, culturally inclusive story of motherhood. Finally, Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton picked up the Best Documentary Short prize for Period. End of Sentence, using the opportunity to stress the empowering significance of their film for women around the world.
Women also won awards for Best Makeup and Hair Design (Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney for Vice), Best Sound Editing (Nina Hartstone), Best Live Action Short (Jaime Ray Newman, producer ofSkin), and of course, Best Original Song (Lady Gaga, co-writer of “Shallow” from A Star is Born). All in all, it was a very good night for women winning awards outside of acting categories.
Black Panther was our pick for the film of 2018, so many of us here at Reject HQ were pulling for Ryan Coogler’s blockbuster to win Best Picture. At the same time, none of us really believed that the award was ever going to be given to a superhero movie, so we kept our expectations in check. Still, the fact that Black Panther took three awards back to Marvel Studios is an impressive achievement in its own right.
Marvel movies aren’t your typical awards darlings, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the best and most successful franchise out there. Their impact cannot be understated, and seeing them always ignored by prestigious awards ceremonies over the years has been frustrating. Of course, Black Panther is a culturally important movie that transcends your average superhero blockbusters in many ways, so it’s understandable why it’s finally the first Marvel movie to receive any Oscars.
Alfonso Cuaron Made History
It was a night of milestones for Alfonso Cuaron. While Roma didn’t win Best Picture, it did win Best Foreign Language Film, making it the first Mexican film to claim the prize. On top of that, Cuaron also took home the prizes for Best Director and Best Cinematography, making him the first filmmaker to ever win both awards for the same movie. That’s no small feat at all.
A Great Night for People of Color
The biggest winner at this year’s event was diversity, especially with regards to people of color. We’ve already discussed a few who picked up some major prizes, but there’s another couple of folks who made history in their own right
One is Mahershala Ali, who won Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Green Book. This is a notable victory as he’s the only black actor to win this award twice. Sure, Green Book isn’t the internet’s favorite movie, but Ali’s turn was still impressive. He’s always great, and if any actor deserves to make some history, whatever the movie may be, it’s him.
While we’re on the subject of taking positives away from controversial movies, Rami Malek became the first Arab-American to win Best Actor. Bohemian Rhapsody entered the ceremony with a stink attached to it due to the scandal surrounding its director, but nothing should be taken away from Malek’s performance. For the first time ever, three of the four acting categories went to actors of color. I’d say that’s worth celebrating, even if the movies they won for aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.