After a tumultuous year that saw the Oscars add, then dump its popular film category, lose host Kevin Hart amid a social media storm over old homophobic tweets, and a near-mutiny over plans to cut technical awards from the live broadcast, the show went on Sunday night in Hollywood. But it wasn’t without controversy.
The 91st Academy Awards were marked by landmark victories with Black Panther costume designer Ruth Carter, and the film’s production designer, Hannah Beachler, becoming the first African-American winners in their categories.
“Wow, this has been a long time coming,” Carter said in her acceptance speech.
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Regina King continued her awards season winning streak, taking home the best supporting actress prize for her role in Barry Jenkin’s adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.
“To be standing here representing one of the greatest artists of our time, James Baldwin, is a little surreal,” an emotional King told the audience in the Dolby Theatre.
Mahershala Ali won his second Oscar, picking up the best supporting actor honor for playing real-life pianist Dr. Don Shirley in Green Book.
Bohemian Rhapsody star Rami Malek won the best actor award, and The Favourite’s Olivia Colman was named best actress.
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After more than three decades in the movie business, Spike Lee won his first Oscar for adapting BlacKkKlansman from Ron Stallworth’s memoir about a black police detective who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan.
Lee, who received an honorary Oscar in 2016, shared the adapted screenplay win with co-writers Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Wilmott.
Overwhelmed after hearing his name called, Lee jumped into the arms of his friend and frequent collaborator, Samuel L. Jackson, who enthusiastically announced his Jungle Fever director had won.
During his acceptance speech, the BlacKkKlansman director and scribe noted that February is Black History Month and reminded the audience of the progress African-Americans have made.
“From 1619 to 2019, 400 years, 400 years that our ancestors were stolen from mother Africa and brought to Jamestown, Virginia enslaved,” he said. “Our ancestors worked the land, can’t see the morning, can’t see at night.”
Speaking of his own journey, Lee praised his grandmother for making sacrifices to ensure that he received a college education.
“My grandmother… who lived 100 years young, was a Spelman College graduate, even though her mother was a slave,” he said. “My grandmother who saved 50 years of social security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me Spikey Poo — she put me through Morehouse College and NYU grad film.”
Lee also reminded viewers that the 2020 presidential election is right 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!” he said, referring to his 1989 film Do the Right Thing.
Unfortunately, the director’s upbeat mood would not last long. Minutes later, when racial road trip film Green Book won best picture, Lee got out of his seat and stormed to the back of the auditorium, Deadline reported.
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While Green Book has continued to win awards, it’s also faced backlash for perpetuating the old Hollywood device where the main black character is rescued by the white lead.
Backstage, Lee told reporters the Green Book win brought back memories of 1990, when his film Do The Right Thing was overlooked for a best picture nomination — while Driving Miss Daisy won the award.
“I’m snake-bit. Every time someone’s driving somebody, I lose,” he said.