91st Academy Awards Reaction and Winners
The 91st Academy Awards happened last night. I cannot speak to the broadcast as I opted to dive into Umbrella Academy instead. Yes, a slick superhero series with some…issues in how it portrays anyone except for straight white men felt far more relaxing than a night of awards that could bring serious clout to some awful people. Based on the winners, I made the right choice for me. Still, I could not contain my disdain for the ceremony when I woke up and discovered the Best Picture winner.
Despite the sour ending, the Academy Awards did give us a lot to celebrate last night.
For one thing, despite their every intention to shorten the broadcast by eliminating lesser song performances and categories, they included them all. Okay, so Kendrick Lamar and SZA did not perform “All the Stars,” but “All the Stars” was originally announced as one of two Original Song performances allowed on the telecast. The Academy also didn’t allow a homophobic comedian who refuses to apologize for what he said for years to host and apparently had no host at all.
Pettiness aside, there are some great winners. Black Panther winning for Costume Design, Production Design, and Original Score is worth celebrating. I’m still sad they missed out on a Makeup and Hairstyling nomination as the voters at large seemed to really like the look of Black Panther.
Spike Lee finally has an Academy Award, albeit for writing, 30 years after Driving Miss Daisy somehow bested Do the Right Thing for Best Picture. We’ll get back there in a second.
Olivia Coleman may not have been my pick to win Best Actress, but I’m happy that she will now be known as Academy Award Winner Olivia Coleman. She’s wonderful in The Favourite.
Regina King also took home the trophy for If Beale Street Could Talk, meaning both King and the film go down in history as Oscar winners.
The Short Film winners are all great. “Bao” is that animated short that made you cry before Incredibles 2. “Period. End of Sentence.” is an excellent documentary short about women in a rural town in India taking the issue of access to sanitary products in their own hands. “Skin” is among the rare winners last night that dealt with racism in a realistic way (and a damn fine short to boot (and another excellent vehicle for Danielle MacDonald, star of Dumplin’ and Patti Cake$)).
My disappointment centers around two films, really: Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody. I’ve seen the films since my final Best of 2018 write-up and can honestly say I didn’t miss anything for my tastes. Green Book is as toothless in its exploration of racism as I expected and Bohemian Rhapsody is plays like it’s held together by chewing gum and fishing line; the former is well made, but the latter is pretty terrible.
I struggle with a few of the wins for these films. I’ll be direct.
Bohemian Rhapsody does not have good sound design or editing. Period. Actors lip syncing to Queen songs you love does not mean that the sound is amazing. Cobbling together footage from a terrible production period into two hours and 14 minutes of “why would anyone want to watch this?” is not good editing. The latter I understand winning—John Ottman literally saved a big budget studio picture that easily could have been written off as a loss and possibly lost a lot of people their jobs. I don’t agree with it, but I understand the logic. But I couldn’t even make out all the dialogue in the film (bad sound mixing) and layering in popular songs as loud as you can does not feel particularly award worthy to me (bad sound editing because the only choice was take these songs and cram them in rather than producing new sounds or layering things in a creative way for novel effect).
Green Book winning beyond Mahershala Ali is bad. I don’t agree with that win, either (it’s a leading role crammed into supporting for more awards attention), but it’s still a good performance.
The rest is a nightmare.
One of the most harmful talking points in the arts, at large, is the statement that we should judge the art, not the artist. While the intentions of the statement are pretty pure—the name alone does not make a good piece, the artist’s opinion of the piece shouldn’t impact your critical evaluation of it, etc.—the impacts in 2019 are pretty bad. Judge the art, not the artist means screenwriters like Nick Vallelonga get to win Academy Awards after making racist comments in social media. He backed up Donald Trump’s statements that Muslims were celebrating in the streets during 9/11 as the Twin Towers came down. When pressured on this, he deleted the tweet from 2015 and released a statement that he’s not racist because he writes films like Green Book. Meanwhile, he was brought in to write a film like Green Book at all that went on to star a Muslim actor (Mahershala Ali) and no one stopped to think that maybe someone who claimed American Muslims were celebrating in the streets during the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 might not be who you want writing a film about tolerance.
Then Green Book wins Best Picture. That means recognizing a film about as tone deaf to actual racism in America as Driving Miss Daisy 30 years after Driving Miss Daisy was considered an iffy winner for being banal and inoffensive while discussing serious issues.
Back then, in the long long ago of 1989, Driving Miss Daisy beat a far more creative and honest film dealing with race in America, Do the Right Thing, directed by Spike Lee. In 2019, Green Book beat another far more creative and honest film about race in America called BlacKkKlansman, also directed by Spike Lee. Those…aren’t great optics.
It also bested Black Panther, a film set in a world where a country in Africa literally hid itself from the outside world to avoid being corrupted and exploited by Colonialization, allowing it to develop into the most technologically advanced country in the world. That’s more of a stretch, sure, but it’s there. A central conflict is whether or not the nation of Wakanda should actually share its resources with a world that assumes they are a tiny impoverished nation because they are in Africa.
Perhaps most egregious of all is one of the biggest snubs from Best Picture. If Beale Street Could Talk, the incredible cinematic adaptation of James Baldwin’s seminal text about racism and corruption in the criminal justice system in America, did not receive a Best Picture nomination. You can’t fault Green Book for that, obviously. It’s just more fuel to the fire of an obvious problem at the Academy Awards.
I don’t have the energy right now to dig back through the reactionary nature of nominations and wins. Just look at what happens after films like 12 Years a Slave or Moonlight win Best Picture. Any film dealing with a similar issue (race, sexuality, gender, etc.) does not receive as many nominations at the next ceremony regardless of quality. Better still, look at that infuriating write up that happens each year where the New York Times polls voter’s ballots and their reason for voting that way.
One voter, a studio executive in his 50s, admitted that his support for “Green Book” was rooted in rage. He said he was tired of being told what movies to like and not like. (Much of the public debate about “Green Book” has turned on its handling of racial issues, which some see as woefully retrograde and borderline bigoted.)
This is par for the course. Last year, they had a quote from someone excoriating Get Out receiving any nominations because the Academy is better than horror films. I’ve seen the sentiment before, but not with as much rage as when a horror film about racism in America fell under their crosshairs.
I get it. Some people just want to escape at the movies. Green Book, with scenes like a white man teaching a black man how to each fried chicken (see, we’re not that different after all < /sarcasm >), feel safe while touching on something that might be important to the real world. It’s just really hard to get behind this kind of win where far better films tackling the same issue were nominated or ignored in those categories.
Here’s the full list of winners.
Best Picture: Green Book
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Best Actor: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Best Actress: Olivia Coleman, The Favourite
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Original Screenplay: Green Book
Adapted Screenplay: BlackKklansman
Foreign Language Film: Roma
Documentary: Free Solo
Animated Feature: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Sound Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Sound Mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Original Song: “Shallow,” A Star is Born
Original Score: Black Panther
Film Editing: Bohemain Rhapsody
Costume Design: Black Panther
Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice
Production Design: Black Panther
Visual Effects: First Man
Short Film: “Skin”
Animated Short: “Bao”
Documentary Short: “Period. End of Sentence.”