What the Oscars finally got right
Diversity is a story that Hollywood loves to tell itself, but one that’s felt a lot more like a self-serving fairy tale than a reality when it comes to the actual awards that get handed out.
Tonight, all that lip service finally (finally!) came home, and look what it delivered: a record number of female winners, including the sole African-American women ever to take Costume Design and Production Design; a first-generation Egyptian immigrant for Best Actor, and a practicing Muslim for Best Supporting Actor; Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero, introducing the winning Best Picture nominee with rising star Amandla Stenberg — young, black, openly queer.
Why does this matter? It’s not a checklist, of course, and there are no prizes for giving prizes to people who don’t look like one pale male shade of Pantone. It matters because it was only a year ago that the Grammys’ president told female artists they needed to “step up” if they wanted to win, as if sexism in the music industry weren’t already ingrained and endemic; that women in Hollywood still hold less than 10 percent of the jobs in fields like composing, cinematography, and sound design; that it took Spike Lee dozens of films and half a lifetime to take home a non-honorary statuette. (Revenge: a dish best served 30 years cold, while dressed like the world’s grooviest grape soda.)
Mexico may be the subject of an ugly battle at our border and the linchpin of an American president’s national emergency, but on the Oscars stage it’s just the home of five of the six last winners for Best Director. (When it was Alfonso Cuarón’s turn tonight, he also gladly allocated precious moments in his speech to speak to the plight of domestic workers like his unsung Roma subject, Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio.)
In the context of all that, Green Book’s prize for Best Picture did feel a little retrograde; the kind of movie that might have made a more sensical winner 20 years ago (or, maybe one decade further back, when Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture and Do the Right Thing wasn’t even nominated). Yes, it was problematic, but it was also — despite the villain narrative it seemed to pick up halfway through the season — a charming movie in many ways, elevated by two stellar actors (one now an Oscar winner for the film), and one that told a story about race in a way that didn’t just speak to the perennially woke choir, but might actually win some new ones over.
Not that every moment in the evening needed to be heavy with meaning or laden with self-aggrandizing seriousness to matter: There was Tina and Amy and Maya, blithely offering to cradle each other’s boobs in the hostless opener; co-presenters Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson giggling like two stoned kids in detention; the giddy winners of Best Documentary Short shouting out menstruation from the stage for the furthering of girls’ education; the smile on Guillermo del Toro’s face when he gave the director’s prize to his friend Cuarón.
If the Golden Globes have always been considered the irreverent cousin to the sober, stately Oscars (so loose! so unpredictable! so tipsy!), this year’s ceremony was like the best version of both, but better: because it is still the highest honor the industry offers, and because it felt so right and fair and fun — and like the good guys (and girls, and everyone in between) really did win. Watching them, so did we.