On the surface, the 91st Academy Awards appeared to celebrate diversity, but marginalized communities still got the short end of the stick Sunday night.
Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler opened with a light, shared monologue. The holy trio of women in comedy poked fun at the host-less occasion and provided a great introduction to the evening’s festivities.
The technical awards were up first. Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler both took home awards for Costume Design and Production Design for their work in “Black Panther.” Only three Black women have won Oscars in a non-acting category and two of those wins happened last night when Carter and Beachler took to the stage to accept their trophies.
“I got it, wow this has been a long time coming,” Carter said at the ceremony. “Spike Lee thank you for my start, I hope this makes you proud.”
Director of “Black KkKlansmen” Spike Lee took home a gold statuette for Best Adapted Screenplay. The win was long overdue, nearly 30 years after Lee was snubbed for what some call, his most prolific work, “Do The Right Thing.” Lee also directed “Malcolm X” which gave Carter her first Oscar nomination for Costume Design.
Black luminaries in Hollywood continued to receive accolades well into the evening. Regina King graciously accepted Best Supporting Actress for her work in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Mahershala Ali also went home with a Best Supporting Actor win for his work in “Green Book.”
While the Academy continued to try and overcompensate for its past #OscarsSoWhite debacle, there were still some notable snubs. Although “Black Panther” was nominated for Best Picture, director Ryan Coogler was shut out of a Best Director nod. Marvel’s box-office success ultimately lost the biggest award of the night.
“Green Book” took home the win for Best Picture, and left many cinephiles shocked but unsurprised. Some argue that the film is a classic example of the “white savior complex” much like past Oscar nominees, “The Help” or “Driving Miss Daisy.” While it appeared to be a win for diversity, it was a safe choice for the Academy.
The movie’s win provides mainstream audiences the impression that the Academy is prioritizing diversity in film, while also pleasing traditionalist (read: white) Academy voters who find films like “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansmen” unapproachable.
An argument could be made that the entire film is an easily digestible narrative about racism for white people, but I’ll spare you that think piece for now.
There were also some notable wins for the Latino community. The award for Best Animated Feature went to “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse,” the film that famously features the first Afro-Latinx spiderman, Miles Morales. Director Peter Ramsey also managed to make history as the first Black man to be nominated for and win in the Best Animated Feature category, for “Into the Spiderverse.”
It briefly seemed as though the Academy was making strides in terms of diversity in film, but it became apparent on Sunday night that it loves to award straight actors for playing gay.
Three of the major categories went to straight actors who played gay. Rami Malek won Best Actor for his lackluster performance as Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Olivia Colman won Best Actress for her sapphic take on Queen Anne in “The Favourite,” and Mahershala Ali, as previously mentioned, won for his role as queer black pianist Don Shirley in “Green Book.”
Two of the three failed to explicitly mention the LGBT community in their acceptance speeches. Although Malek succeeded in actually saying the word “gay” in his speech for the first time this awards season, he still failed to make any mention of the AIDS crisis. The disease infamously cut Mercury’s life short and nearly exterminated an entire generation of queer people.
“Roma” won big as well. Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron racked up wins for Best Cinematography, Best Director, and Best Foreign Language Film. Actor Javier Bardem was tasked with introducing the Best Foreign Language Film category and still managed to find time to make a dig at the current presidential administration.
“There are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity and talent,” Bardem quipped before announcing the nominees.
Although this year appeared to be a watershed moment for people of color in film, we should still be asking ourselves, why are all of these firsts happening now?
It’s important to recognize the Academy’s strides toward being more inclusive. It’s also important to remember that celebration still requires critique.
Black and brown film-goers should not be expected to accept the bare minimum when it comes to representation in film (looking at you Green Book.) The LGBT community still deserves agency over its own historical narrative. Queer actors should be able to portray queer icons in film (looking at you Bohemian Rhapsody).
White directors, producers and writers should not be celebrated for their “accurate” portrayal of a racist era, and straight actors should not be celebrated for their “brave” turns as queer people.
If marginalized communities aren’t granted agency over their own stories, then there’s no way to ensure that those stories are going to be told accurately.