91st Oscars Serve Up Record Firsts
Most individual wins by women and African Americans but 'Green Book' marks a step backwards
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 Well it's a film that feels really out of date in terms of how it approaches race relations.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.
The 91st Academy Awards are over and the satisfying awards are overshadowed by some aggravating wins.
I am still angry from last night. I was so frustrated by the wins "Green Book" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" racked up. I was so angry I had to watch the violent action film "The Night Comes For Us" but that only got me more worked up because it reminded me that the Oscars still fail to have a category for the phenomenal artistry of the fight choreography or stunt coordinator.
The Good News
But let's focus on the good news first. A record number of individual awards went to women and African American artists this year. That is good news and progress.
The happiest surprise for me was Olivia Colman’s upset win as Best Actress for "The Favourite" provided the night’s most genuine onstage reaction and speech. She began with, "It’s genuinely quite stressful. This is hilarious. Got an Oscar. I have to thank lots of people. If by the way I forget anybody, I’m going to find you later and I’m going to give you all a massive snog." Glenn Close had won numerous awards for "The Wife" and going in she seemed a lock for Best Actress. But Colman, who I first remember in the comedy "Hot Fuzz," was brilliant in Yorgos Lanthimos' nasty gem "The Favourite."
My next favorite win was Spike Lee. After decades of ferociously good work he finally got his first Best Director nomination but racked up his first win for co-writing "BlacKkKlansman." Plus he got to receive the award from Samuel Jackson, who starred in a number of Lee's films and went off script at the awards show to tell Lee that his beloved Knicks had won. Lee was visibly happy and excited as he jumped onto the stage and into Jackson's arms. He also came prepared with a written speech because this award and its platform have been a long time coming. He made the best of it to deliver a message.
"The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there!" Lee said in his acceptance speech.
"Black Panther" won Marvel its first Oscar, and the wins for Best Costume and Best Production Design marked the first time black women have ever won in that category. "Black Panther" not only had many talented black craft people bringing it to the screen but a remarkable number of women also working on the film. Rachel Morrison, who was not nominated this year, served as cinematographer for the film.
Alfonso Cuaron took home three awards and is the first director to also win as his own cinematographer. His acceptance speech for Best Foreign Language Film for "Roma" cleverly pointed out that as Americans we need to remember what "foreign" can actually mean.
"I grew up watching foreign language films and learning so much from them and being inspired. Films like 'Citizen Kane,' 'Jaws,' 'Rashomon,' 'The Godfather,' and 'Breathless,'" Cuaron said on stage.
The other point about "Roma" is that it was produced by Netflix, a streaming service. Netflix has already won an Oscar for Best Documentary (for "Icarius"), now it has a win for Best Foreign Language Film. So when will that Best Picture win come? Hollywood has been scared of Netflix and streaming services making films because it challenges the tradition of films being made for theatrical release with a new distribution model. Theater owners feel like it might be the death knell for cinemas or maybe it points to streaming services rethinking their distribution model and looking to release more of their product in theaters. Netflix did finally join the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and are the first and only streaming service to join the studios in the organizations.
The Bad News
But now for the lowlights. Rami Malek winning Best Actor for "Bohemian Rhapsody" seemed like rewarding someone for wearing a bad wig, false teeth and essentially doing karaoke. Don't get me wrong, he gave a great impersonation of Freddie Mercury that worked well in the film but it was by no means great acting. Christian Bale on the other hand, completely disappeared in the role of Dick Cheney in "Vice." The acting miracle he pulled off was to find nuance and interest in a man whose demeanor was bland, low key and monotone.
But the most infuriating win was "Green Book" for Best Picture. This year marked the most individual wins for African Americans with seven but when it came to choosing Best Picture the Academy went with the film that dealt with race from a white perspective in terms of the lead actor, writer, and director. It has been referred to as "Driving Miss Daisy" in reverse. This in a year when you had Spike Lee’s "BlacKkKlansman," Ryan Coogler’s "Black Panther," and Barry Jenkins’ "If Beale Street Could Talk" as alternates to choose from. This win feels like a step backwards and it seems that the complicated preferential voting ballot that has voters pick a first, second and third place choice can make middle-of-the-road films win.
"Green Book" is designed as a feel-good film about race relations and it's well acted by appealing stars. But it glosses over horrific racism and presents a white savior for its black character. What's ironic is that Spike Lee made "Do the Right Thing" in 1989, the same year as "Driving Miss Daisy" (which also won Best Picture) and his film was ahead of its time then in presenting a black perspective and that 30-year-old film is still light years ahead of "Green Book" in tackling issues of race. Giving "Green Book" the Best Picture Oscar is bad but giving it in a year when Spike Lee has made a better film and a better story on the same issue of race is just infuriating.
The No-Host Show
The no-host show worked great and cut down on stupid banter. The show might not have been shorter but it felt like it moved better. But if you want hosts, go with Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler who opened the Awards.
Some fun moments: Melissa McCarthy in regal robes covered with rabbits in reference to "The Favourite" couldn’t open the envelope for Best Costume with her rabbit puppet hand. And Captain America Chris Evans escorted Regina King to the stage so she didn’t trip on her long train as she accepted her Best Supporting Actress award for "If Beale Street Could Talk." A number of female winners nearly tripped getting to the stage so maybe the lesson from this year's awards is that dresses should not have trains because not everyone can sit next to Captain America.