By Diana Cheng
AAP Film & Arts Writer
The 91st Academy Awards show was held on Sunday, Feb 24, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Those present witnessed perhaps the most diverse representation in Oscar history all in one night.
The hostless awards show went smoothly and offered some top-notch entertainment. The well-coordinated program sent many winners and presenters of diverse background on stage until the final, most expectant moment. Among controversies, the road trip movie “Green Book” won Best Picture in a clearly surprising upset.
The story about legendary African American concert pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) chauffeured by Italian bouncer Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) in the American South during the 1960’s was reportedly condemned by Shirley’s family due to its inaccuracy, and the concept of a ‘White Savior’ the movie implied had been criticized as archaic and racist, among other issues.
The feature won three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Mahershala Ali for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Alfonso Cuarón, the Mexican director of the acclaimed, autobiographical film “Roma” set in his childhood neighborhood in Mexico City won Best Achievement in Directing and Cinematography. While “Roma” didn’t win Best Picture as many critics had predicted, it snatched the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Debut actress Yalitza Aparicio, who played the housemaid and nanny Cleo, made history in being the first indigenous woman to be nominated for an Oscar Best Actress award.
Best Actor went to Rami Malek for his role as Freddie Mercury, lead vocalist of the British band Queen. In his acceptance speech, Malek said, “I am the son of immigrants from Egypt… a first generation American.” His declaration was deliberate and affirming, reminiscence of last Oscars’ “I am an immigrant” acceptance speech by Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro after his movie “The Shape of Water” won Best Picture. Such an admittance definitely was not something to be made public with confidence and pride in the older days of the Academy Awards.
The watershed, superhero movie “Black Panther” directed by Ryan Coogler with his all African American leading cast won three Oscars. Ruth E. Carter made history as the first African American to win the Costume Design award, while Hannah Beachler became the first woman of color to be nominated and win Best Production Design. The feature also won Best Original Score.
Spike Lee, director and co-writer of “BlacKkKlansman” finally won his first Oscar, for Best Adapted Screenplay. His acceptance speech roused up the house with probably the most politically charged statements of the night: “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.”
Asian Americans were also represented in the winners. Husband-and-wife directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s stunning “Free Solo” won Best Documentary Feature. The cinematic capture of rock climber Alex Honnold’s ascend to the peak of El Capitan with his bare hands and feet was produced by National Geographic. Chin and Vasarhelyi are notable filmmakers of breathtaking mountaineering. This is their first Oscar win.
Chinese-Canadian animator-filmmaker Domee Shi, who created a delightful character out of a Chinese steamed dumpling, garnered the Oscar for Best Animated Short for her work “Bao.” A promising writer-director to watch, Shi was storyboard artist for the Oscar winning animated feature “Inside Out” (2015) and Oscar nominee “Incredibles 2” (2018).
Winner for Documentary Short Subject went to Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton for their film “Period. End of Sentence.” The excited winners, all women on stage, marveled that a film on the subject of menstruation could win the Oscars. The title denotes a double meaning as the film depicts how the former cultural bias and discrimination in a rural village outside Delhi, India, was later transformed into empowerment for the women living there.
“Crazy Rich Asian” stars, though not nominated, were out in full force both noted on the Red Carpet and on stage. Constance Wu presented the Oscar for Best Original Song to Lady Gaga and her composing team for “Shallow” (from “A Star is Born”), which she sang with Bradley Cooper in a moving performance. Other “Crazy Rich” stars Michelle Yeoh and Awkwafina were also presenters.
For a complete list of the 91st Oscar winners, go to the Oscars.org official page.