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Analysis

Big winners of the 2019 Oscars: Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, and the much-maligned ‘Green Book’

The Oscars went without a host, pretended 'Bohemian Rhapsody' didn't have a director.

Rami Malek, winner of Best Actor for 'Bohemian Rhapsody'; Olivia Colman, winner of Best Actress for 'The Favourite'; Regina King, winner of Best Supporting Actress for 'If Beale Street Could Talk'; and Mahershala Ali, winner of Best Supporting Actor for 'Green Book' pose in the press room during at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. CREDIT: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Rami Malek, winner of Best Actor for 'Bohemian Rhapsody'; Olivia Colman, winner of Best Actress for 'The Favourite'; Regina King, winner of Best Supporting Actress for 'If Beale Street Could Talk'; and Mahershala Ali, winner of Best Supporting Actor for 'Green Book' pose in the press room during at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. CREDIT: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

At the end of The Favourite, Emma Stone’s Abigail realizes that, though she has spent the duration of the film successfully scheming and maneuvering her way to the position she longed to hold, she hasn’t really come as far as she would have liked. Technically, she’s ascended; practically speaking, she’s still down on the ground at the mercy of someone far more powerful than she. Her life may have changed in some meaningful ways. Her wardrobe has definitely improved. But a fundamental ugliness remains.

At the end of the Oscars, a night that saw some long overdue and historic victories for women and artists of color, the movie that took home the final, biggest prize was a critical dud, mocked the internet over for its status as this year’s Crash: A movie about racism, for white people. Spike Lee, whose BlackKklansman was also a best picture contender, was likely having flashbacks to 1990, when Do The Right Thing lost to Driving Miss Daisy.

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Green Book winning best picture was a dismal, eye-roll-worthy final beat for a show that was, for the most part, loaded with actual, delightful surprises, signs that the Academy’s efforts at inclusion are beginning to bear fruit.

But hey, it could have been worse! It could have been Bohemian Rhapsody.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  In this handout provided by A.M.P.A.S., Rami Malek poses with the Actor in a Leading Role award for 'Bohemian Rhapsody' backstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Matt Petit - Handout/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: In this handout provided by A.M.P.A.S., Rami Malek poses with the Actor in a Leading Role award for 'Bohemian Rhapsody' backstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Matt Petit - Handout/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)

That — let’s just get the lowlights out of the way — was the other off-key note of the night. Bohemian Rhapsody, a movie edited as if designed to induce seizures, won best film editing. The movie was directed by Bryan Singer, who has long been the subject of disturbing, credible allegations that he has sexually exploited and abused young boys for decades. His alleged history of violent, predatory misconduct is one of Hollywood’s most open secrets. Singer was fired from the movie when filming was more than halfway through. Last month, one day after Bohemian Rhapsody picked up its five Oscar nominations, the Atlantic published an exposé on Singer in which multiple men accused him of sexual assault and statutory rape.

Rami Malek, whose transformation into Freddie Mercury was both possibly too much (the teeth!) and not enough (that wasn’t just him singing), managed to get through his best actor acceptance speech without mentioning or even referencing Singer, or that his movie had a director at all. Then again, he was more than prepared for that task, considering he spent much of the Bohemian Rhapsody press tour, as The Onion perfectly put it, “deeply immersing himself in the role of a man who knows nothing about Bryan Singer’s pedophilia allegations.”

In his speech, Malek talked about being the son of immigrants and making a movie “about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically as himself.” A lovely gesture, but again, Bohemian Rhapsody has been rightly criticized for its skittish handling of Mercury’s sexuality.

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As for the good news: The host-less night moved at a peppy, engaging clip. Did anyone miss having a master of ceremonies, bogging down the proceedings with excruciating, hammy bits of audience participation and flop-sweating through their monologue? Didn’t think so. Who needs Kevin Hart when you have an introduction by Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey and some standout appearances by evening MVPs Melissa McCarthy and Bryan Tyree Henry?

The show brought some historic firsts: Ruth Carter won her first Oscar for her astonishing costume design on Black Panther. She was followed by a Black Panther win for set design, with fellow first-time winners Hannah Beachler (production design) and Jay Hart (set decoration). Both Carter and Beachler were the first black winners in their respective categories. And as the New York Times’ Kyle Buchanan noted on Twitter, only three black women have ever won Oscars in any non-acting categories. Carter and Bleacher are two of them. 

Those victories came after Regina King’s best supporting actress win, her first, for If Beale Street Could Talk and before Mahershala Ali’s best supporting actor win for Green Book. Spike Lee — finally! — won his first real-deal, not-just-honorary Oscar, for his BlackKklansman adapted screenplay, and he celebrated by leaping into Samuel L. Jackson’s arms and wrapping his arms and legs around him, koala-style. 

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: (L-R) Spike Lee accepts the Adapted Screenplay award for "BlacKkKlansman" from Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson onstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: (L-R) Spike Lee accepts the Adapted Screenplay award for "BlacKkKlansman" from Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson onstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Several winners and presenters used their time on stage to insist upon the importance of stories about people of color and the power of representation. Javier Bardem, presenting best foreign language film, spoke in Spanish about how “there are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity or talent.” The team behind best animated feature winner Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse talked about “hear[ing] that somebody’s kid was watching the movie and turned to them and said, ‘He looks like me,’ or ‘They speak Spanish like us,’ we feel like we already won.”

When chef Jose Andrés introduced Roma as a best picture nominee, he honored how the film “reminds us of the understanding and compassion that we all owe to the invisible people in our lives who move humanity forward: immigrants and women.” And when Cuarón, who won best cinematography and best director for Roma, picked up the second of those two trophies, he carried on that sentiment, thanking the Academy “for recognizing the film centered around an indigenous woman, one of the millions of the domestic workers around the world without rights, who have been historically relegated to the background in cinema.”

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  In this handout provided by A.M.P.A.S., presenter Angela Bassett poses with Foreign Language Film winner Alfonso Cuaron backstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Matt Sayles - Handout/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: In this handout provided by A.M.P.A.S., presenter Angela Bassett poses with Foreign Language Film winner Alfonso Cuaron backstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Matt Sayles - Handout/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)

For everyone who loves to dismiss “hashtag activism,” it’s worth noting that it was the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, started by April Reign just over three years ago, that was critical in sparking a movement that led to some significant changes in the Academy’s membership and voting rules. Last year, the Academy invited its biggest and most diverse class in history, and it already shows.

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There were wonderful surprises — well, okay, not wonderful for Glenn Close, but for Olivia Coleman, who picked up best actress and charmed the world with an absolutely perfect acceptance speech. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s performance of “Shallow,” which won best original song, was 85 percent smoldering eye contact and 15 percent end-of-song nuzzling. This was presumably intended to set the internet ablaze and, by that metric alone, was an unqualified success.

And the notoriously sexist Academy (see: how infrequently women even talk in the movies that win best picture, among other quantifiable injustices) awarded 15 women statuettes on Sunday night — an Oscar record. Bao, Disney’s first animated short directed by a woman, won in its category; director Domee Shi accepted the award alongside Becky Neiman-Cobb. And the Academy even gave a prize to a documentary about menstruation. Period. End of Sentence is about women in rural India fighting for menstrual equality in communities where 23 percent of women drop out of school when they hit puberty. It snagged best documentary short, which gave us one of the best acceptance speeches of the night, thanks to its 25-year-old director Rayka Zehtabchi: “I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything! I can’t believe a film about MENSTRUATION just won an OSCAR.”

Every year, Academy voters give these anonymous interviews about how they filled out their Oscar ballots. One such voter, who probably had no problem checking the box for The Revenant and the like, told the Hollywood Reporter he didn’t think anyone would vote for Period. End of Sentence. “It’s well done, but it’s about women getting their period, and I don’t think any man is voting for this film because it’s just icky for men.” Turns out his fellow voters didn’t feel the same way. Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.