Minorities top Oscars as Green Book wins best picture

Published 25.02.2019 08:12
Updated 25.02.2019 13:15
emAFP Photo/em
AFP Photo

In a night of firsts, the 2019 Oscars saw historically underrepresented communities and their stories ascend to the top of Hollywood's glitziest awards show.

Green Book, the biographical film about black Jazz pianist Don Shirley and his white driver and bodyguard in the segregated South, took home the night's top prize, winning best picture at the 91st Academy Awards.

Mahershala Ali, who is Muslim and plays Shirley, won best supporting actor for his performance. It was his second win in the category. Ali is the second black actor to win two Oscars following Denzel Washington, who won for "Glory" and "Training Day." Ali dedicated the award to his grandmother.

In all seven black nominees emerged on top in their respective categories, including Hannah Beachler, who was the first black nominee in the best production design category for her work in Black Panther.

The lush, big-budget craft of Black Panther won for Ruth Carter's costume design, Beachler and Jay Hart's production design, and Ludwig Göransson's score. Beachler had been the first African-American to ever be nominated in the category. Beachler and Carter became just the second and third black women to win non-acting Oscars.

"It just means that we've opened the door," Carter, a veteran costume designer, said backstage. "Finally, the door is wide open."

Green Book's win caught many by surprise with favorites Roma and Black Panther leading best picture speculation going into a night that was marked in many ways by an ever-present absence.

This year's Academy Awards went without a host after Kevin Hart withdrew from the show amid controversy. He was replaced by not one individual, but an ensemble of presenters.

But it was the night's diversity that took center stage.

Among the night's top winners, Rami Malek, the son of Egyptian immigrants, won best actor for his portrayal of musical phenom Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. The film took home the most awards on the night, netting four in total including sound editing, sound mixing and film editing.

"We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself," Malek said while accepting his award. "The fact that I'm celebrating him and this story with you tonight is proof that we are longing for stories like this."

Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron won his second best director award for his semi-autobiographical black and white film Roma, which chronicles the life of a live-in housekeeper in 1970s-era Mexico City. He is the first Latino to have won the award.

"I want to thank the academy for recognizing the film centered around an indigenous woman. One of the 70 million domestic workers in the world without worker's rights," Cuaron said. "As artists our job is to look where others don't."

Cuaron and his "Three Amigos" countrymen — Alejandro Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro, who presented Cuaron with best picture — will have had a stranglehold on category, winning five of the last six years.

Cuaron, becoming the first director to ever win for serving as his own director of photography, referenced an especially international crop of nominees in one of his three acceptance speeches.

"When asked about the New Wave, Claude Chabrol said there are no waves, there is only the ocean," said Cuaron, referring to the French filmmaker. "The nominees tonight have proven that we are a part of the same ocean."

Sunday night's victor scorecard, and the nominee pool it sprung from, are a far-cry from the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that dogged the 2015 and 2016 ceremonies.

Spike Lee, the black director who has gone decades without taking home a competitive Oscar, claimed his first honor, netting the best adapted screenplay Oscar for his film BlacKkKlansman. The biographical film tells the story of a black detective who works to expose a Ku Klux Klan chapter in Colorado.

The crowd rose in a standing ovation, Lee leaped into the arms of presenter Samuel L. Jackson and even the backstage press room burst into applause.

Lee, whose film including footage of President Donald Trump following the violent white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, urged mobilization for the upcoming election.

"Let's be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love and hate," said Lee, who was given an honorary Oscar in 2015. "Let's do the right thing! You knew I had to get that in there."

One of the biggest surprises of the night was in the best actress category. Olivia Colman won for her Queen Anne in the royal romp "The Favourite," denying Glenn Close her first Oscar. Close remains the most-nominated living actor never to win, with seven nominations.

"Ooo. It's genuinely quite stressful," said a staggered Colman, who later turned to Close to say she was her idol, "And this is not how I wanted it to be."

To compensate for a lack of host, the motion picture academy leaned on its presenters, including an ornately outfitted Melissa McCarthy and David Tyree Henry and a Keegan-Michael Key who floated down like Mary Poppins. Following Queen, Tina Fey — alongside Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph — welcomed the Dolby Theatre audience to "the one-millionth Academy Awards."

Rudolph summarized a rocky Oscar preamble that featured numerous missteps and backtracks by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: "There is no host, there won't be a popular movie category and Mexico is not paying for the wall."

The trio then presented best supporting actress to Regina King for her pained matriarch in Barry Jenkins' James Baldwin adaptation "If Beale Street Could Talk." The crowd gave King a standing ovation for her first Oscar.

"To be standing here representing one of the greatest artist of our time, James Baldwin, is a little surreal," said King. "James Baldwin birthed this baby."

The inclusivity of the winners Sunday stood in stark contrast to the #OscarsSoWhite backlash that marked the 2016 and 2015 Oscars. Since then, the academy has worked to diversify its largely white and male membership, adding several thousand new members and opening the academy up internationally.

More women won Oscars than ever before. Still, this year's nominations were criticized for not including a female best director nominee or a best-picture nominee directed by a woman.

Though the once presumed front-runner "A Star Is Born" appeared to flame out as awards season continued, it won, as expected, for the song "Shallow," which Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performed during the ceremony. As she came off the stage, Cooper had his arm around Gaga as she asked, "Did I nail it?"

Best documentary went to Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin's "Free Solo," which chronicles rock climber Alex Honnold's famed, free solo ascent of Yosemite's El Capitan, a 3,000-foot wall of sheer granite, without ropes or climbing equipment. "Free Solo" was among a handful of hugely successful documentaries last year including the nominated Ruth Bader Ginsberg documentary "RBG" and the snubbed Fred Rogers doc "Won't You Be My Neighbor."

"Thank you Alex Honnold for teaching us to believe in the impossible," said Vasarhelyi. "This film is for everyone who believes in the impossible."

Adam McKay's Dick Cheney biopic "Vice" won makeup and hairstyling for its extensive physical transformations. The category was one of the four that the academy initially planned to present during a commercial break and as its winners — Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney — dragged on in a litany of thank-yous, they were the first to have their microphone cut off.

To turn around ratings, Oscar producers pledged a shorter show. In the academy's favor was a popular crop of nominees: "Bohemian Rhapsody," ''A Star Is Born" and, most of all, "Black Panther" have all amassed huge sums in ticket sales. Typically, when there are box-office hits (like "Titanic"), more people watch the Oscars.

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