Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Hello 2019: the Oscars were a triumph for diversity – finally

It appears the academy has been listening: this year's awards featured record numbers of winners who weren't white and male

Best Supporting Actress winner for "If Beale Street Could Talk" Regina King attends the 91st Annual Academy Awards Governors Ball at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019. / AFP / Robyn Beck
Best Supporting Actress winner for "If Beale Street Could Talk" Regina King attends the 91st Annual Academy Awards Governors Ball at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019. / AFP / Robyn Beck

Diversity has been a talking point in Hollywood ever since April Reign coined the #OscarSoWhite hashtag more than four years ago.

This year, with the Academy Awards voting panel extended to include a higher number of minority and female voters, the Oscars has finally delivered on some of its promises of inclusivity.

Three out of four ain’t bad

Three of this year’s acting awards went to non-white actors, with Egyptian-American Rami Malek picking up the Best Actor prize for his role as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, the first actor of Arab origin to lift the prize, Mahershala Ali taking the Best Supporting Actor statue for Green Book and Regina King taking home the spoils for Best Supporting Actress.

Away from the acting prizes, Ruth E Carter became the first African-American woman to win best costume design for her work on Marvel’s Black Panther, thanking Spike Lee in her acceptance speech. Lee himself picked up an award for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlackKklansman, although the legendary filmmaker's too long, three-decade wait for a Best Director or Best Picture award goes on.

Spike Lee, winner of the award for best adapted screenplay for "BlacKkKlansman", attends the Governors Ball after the Oscars: remarkably, this is Lee's first ever Oscar. Photo: AP 
Spike Lee, winner of the award for best adapted screenplay for "BlacKkKlansman", attends the Governors Ball after the Oscars: remarkably, this is Lee's first ever Oscar. Photo: AP

Black Panther production designer Hannah Beachler, meanwhile, was the first black woman ever to be nominated in her category, and duly picked up the award on the night. Black Panther completed a trio of awards with a win for Best Original Score.

91st Academy Awards - Oscars Show - Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 24, 2019. Hannah Beachler celebrates with her Oscar for Best Production Design for 'Black Panther'. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Hannah Beachler celebrates with her Oscar for Best Production Design. Photo: Reuters

Mahershala Ali also joined Denzel Washington as only the second black actor to win two Oscars after his win on Sunday night.

Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse can also make a reasonable claim to have contributed to the night’s diversity haul, featuring as it does the Afro-Latino Spider-Man Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore, in this spin-off to the main Peter Parker Spider-Man series.

Women on top

This year’s awards had a record number of female winners overall, with Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney’s make-up and hairstyling win for Vice and Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton’s best documentary short win for Period. End of Sentence, which itself tackles the topic of menstruation.

Melissa Berton, center left, and Rayka Zehtabchi accept the award for best documentary short subject for "Period. End of Sentence." at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Melissa Berton, center left, and Rayka Zehtabchi accept the award for best documentary short subject for 'Period. End of Sentence.'

Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb of Pixar also nabbed an animated short prize for Bao, and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Shannon Dill shared best documentary feature for Free Solo, with Jimmy Chin and Evan Hayes.

International directors reign supreme

Alfonso Cuaron’s Best Director prize means that, incredibly, it is now nine years since an American director has won that award. Perhaps equally incredibly, that American was a woman – Kathryn Bigelow picked up the prize in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.

epa07395570 Inhabitants of the town of Tlaxiaco, in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, birthplace of actress Yalitza Aparicio, follow the live broadcast of the Oscar awards, 24 February 2019. Alfonso Cuaron won Best Director Award, Best Achievement in Cinematography Award and Best Foreign Language Film Award for 'Roma'. EPA/Mario Arturo Martínez
Inhabitants of the town of Tlaxiaco, in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, birthplace of actress Yalitza Aparicio, follow the live broadcast of the Oscar awards. Photo: EPA

Since then, the award has been won five times by a Mexican – Alfonso Cuaron twice for Gravity and Roma, Alejandro Inarritu twice for Birdman and The Revenant, and Guillermo Del Toro for The Shape of Water. Two further awards were picked up by Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist and French-American Damain Chazelle for LaLa Land, and one apiece went to Taiwan and Britain – Ang Lee for Life of Pi and Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech.

Trouble in Paradise?

The Oscars may have scored well on diversity on the surface, but the judge’s decisions were not without their critics. The selection of Green Book for Best Picture was particularly controversial. The film has been accused of being a “white saviour” movie, while lead actor Viggo Mortensen and co-writer Nick Vallelonga have both been involved in racism rows during the movie’s awards campaign trail.

Spike Lee, who is never a man to steer clear of controversy, was up against the film in the Best Picture category with BlackKlansman and was reported to say backstage: "I thought I was courtside at the Garden and the ref made a bad call", when asked about Green Book’s win. The director, who picked up an award for Best Adapted Screenplay this year, added: "Every time somebody's driving somebody, I lose," referring to the 1990 awards when his first Oscar-nominated movie, Do the Right Thing, lost out to Driving Miss Daisy for the Best Original Screenplay Award.

91st Academy Awards - Oscars Backstage - Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 24, 2019. 'Green Book' director Peter Farrelly reacts. Matt Petit /A.M.P.A.S./Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO MARKETING OR ADVERTISING IS PERMITTED WITHOUT THE PRIOR CONSENT OF A.M.P.A.S AND MUST BE DISTRIBUTED AS SUCH. MANDATORY CREDIT.
'Green Book' director Peter Farrelly reacts to his win. Photo: AMPAS

Lee’s film wasn’t up against Green Book in the Best Adapted Screenplay category this year, though we’d be interested to hear what he made of Green Book’s Best Original Screenplay win, given that the film is inspired by, if not exactly based on, The Negro Motorist Green Book, a mid-20th century guidebook for African-American travellers written by Victor Hugo Green, to help find motels and restaurants that would serve them.

Updated: February 25, 2019 04:10 PM

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