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91st Oscars Serve Up Record Firsts

February 25, 2019 12:58 p.m.

GUESTS: Beth Accomando, KPBS film critic

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

The 91st Academy Award show even with all the preshow controversies was surprisingly a watchable tightly paced event. The only real problem for many people is who won especially who won best picture. Joining me to explain why is K PBS Arts reporter Martha commando. Beth welcome. Thank you. Now Green Book won best picture. Tell me what you and many critics think is wrong with that.

All right. Well it's a film that feels really out of date in terms of how it approaches race relations. It's been called Driving Miss Daisy in reverse. And in a year when you have films about African-Americans made by black filmmakers like Spike Lee Ryan Coogler and Barry Jenkins It just seems insulting to give it to a film with a white lead white director in a white author. Spike Lee may do the right thing in 1989. This is the same year that Driving Miss Daisy won best picture. His film was ahead of its time then and now 30 years later it's still more relevant and ahead of its time than green book.

Do you believe that the way Academy members vote for Best Picture could explain why Green Book won.

Yeah I think so. When the Academy expanded the best picture category from five nominees to up to 10 they also changed the voting for best picture. So they call this a preferential ballot where voters get to pick a first second and third place choice. So if a film is a bit polarizing or has strong opinions so maybe people have a hard time with the favorite because it's kind of nasty and mean or vice because it's got political content. So those might end up on some first choice picks but maybe not on a lot of second and third choices.

But if you have a film that people kind of have a feel good feeling about like oh yeah I kinda like that the acting was nice that might get a lot of second or third place picks and that could kind of bolster up the film to rise above films that are in many ways better than it. This might have helped moonlight a couple of years ago because it was a small indie film but this kind of voting can also I think lead to more middling or middle of the road kind of films maybe getting ahead and winning an Oscar over some better more artistic films.

What movie do you think should have won best picture. Well I would have been happy to see Roma won because that would have opened the best foreign film category for cold war to win but black Klansmen and vice were also really good and what was good about all these films is they were better at getting out their subjects with more depth and more subtlety and less cliché and formula. So in different ways each of those films I mentioned give us a different and fresh look on the world from what we might think we know about it.

Now Spike Lee was apparently even though even though black Klansmen did not win for best picture he was thrilled to get the Oscar for best screenplay he jumped up on actor Samuel L. Jackson with joy. So what was his acceptance speech like.

Well you know this was a long overdue Oscar and Samuel Jackson's been in a number of his films. This was the first year that he got a best directing nomination. This is after 30 years of amazing work. His first directing nomination he won for best adapted screenplay for black Klansman and he came prepared with a speech written out and he made the most of his time on stage to deliver a message.

We all connect with our ancestors. We will have love wisdom regaining will regain our humanity will be a powerful moment. The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. This all mobilize let's all be on the right side of history. Make the rope boys make the more choice between love versus hate let's do the right thing. Go ahead and get.

Now that you say that if Spike Lee had won an Oscar earlier in his career that acceptance speech you'd think might have been a bit angrier it might have been a little different.

I mean when Spike Lee started out with films like do the right thing. There was a real anger in his films in a very justifiable anger and that's what kind of made his films unique. But I think he has over the years matured a little bit and realized that if he pulls back just a little bit still has the anger he's still forceful and he's still like he's got a message he wants to deliver. But if he delivers it in a little more measured tone I think he's realized that more people will hear it.

And black Klansman is I think his most accessible film biggest financial success I think. And you know I think he's just maturing as a filmmaker.

There were lots of firsts in this year's awards. Many women many black artists getting their first awards including as we just mentioned Spike Lee. Tell us about that.

Well what's interesting is this year marked the most individual awards won by African-Americans and women. And the women who won for Black Panther in costume and production design mark the first time African-American women have ever won in those craft categories black panther was also the first Marvel film to take home an Oscar. And Alfonso Cuarón for Roma was the first to win a best director and best cinematographer for shooting his own film. And like Spike Lee he took time to deliver a message with his acceptance speech.

Oh yeah. I want to thank the government for recognizing the film center a rundown Indigenous woman. One of the 70 million domestic workers in the world without works with a worker rights a character that historically had been readily relegated to the background in cinema. Authorities. Our job is to look where others don't. These responsibility becomes much more important in films when we are being encouraged to look away.

Let's talk about a trend in the film business exemplified by the movie. Many critics wanted to see win from best picture and that's Roma. It was produced by Netflix. What does it mean that a streaming service is becoming such an important player in the film industry.

Well it's interesting Netflix won best documentary last year for a film called like. And this year it nabbed the best foreign film so it seems like it's only a matter of time before it gets the best picture award. But Hollywood's always been a little bit afraid of Netflix. It's a streaming service and it it challenges the traditional notion of films being made to be released in a movie theater and some theater chains think this is the death knell for movie theaters. Films will be made streaming they'll change the academy rules and you know anything can get nominated.

But I'm optimistic and I'm thinking maybe this is a change in distribution model for streaming services that when they have films that are exceptional maybe they will think about releasing them in a theater first to qualify for the Oscars. So Netflix did join the Motion Picture Association of America the NPA this year and it's the only streaming service that is currently with all the studios in that organization. So who knows who's affecting who.

Well outside of this picture I think the big upset of the night at this year's awards was that most critics thought that seven time Oscar nominee Glenn Close would finally win Best Actress for her role in the wife. She lost to Olivia Colman in the favorite. I mean this is that academy voters just don't like Glenn Close.

You know I don't think they don't like her she's been nominated seven times a lot of people like Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton have no never won an Oscar. But I think you know timing and voting is always so strange with the academy. Olivia Colman her first nomination. She wins. She was a wonderful surprise. She was delightful on stage and she most definitely likes Glenn Close as her acceptance speech proves your course.

My best director and the best film. And with Emily and Rachel the two loveliest women in the world to fall in love with him to go to work with every day. You can imagine it's wasn't to watch it. And to be. To be in this category with these extraordinary women and Glenn Close. You've been my idol for so long and this is not how I wanted it to be. And I think you're amazing. I love you very much.

That's Olivia Colman accepting her best actress award at last night's Academy Award event. And I've been speaking with KPBS Arts reporter Beth Accomando. Thank you very much.

Thank you.