The Oscars ceremony is famously “Hollywood’s Biggest Night,” and for good reason: it’s a star-studded event awarding the past year’s most important films. The Oscars also seem to be riddled with controversy, from #Oscarssowhite in 2016 to the most recent debacle over Kevin Hart’s homophobic tweet history that resulted in the award show not having a host for the sixth time in the award’s 91-year history. On the tails of such controversy; however, comes an uplifting number of wins by individuals of minority descent and by films that represented typically underrepresented groups.
Best Picture – Green Book
Aptly selected as a presenter, Senator John Lewis, who is one of the activists that spearheaded The Civil Rights Movement and marched through Selma alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., helped introduce this film’s nomination for Best Picture. Green Book is the story of Dr. Don Shirley, a black man traveling throughout the racially turbulent Deep South in the 1960s for a concert tour with his white driver. Green Book winning Best Picture may not resolve the racial tensions of our current world, but at the very least, it commemorates a friendship that looked past difference and saw what connects us all: our humanity.
Actor in a Leading Role – Rami Malek
Rarely are people of minority status given the chance to become a star like Freddie Mercury, even more rarely are those people's lives commemorated with a film, and when movies are made about them, it seems Hollywood is quick to whitewash their story. But not with Bohemian Rhapsody. A first generation American and son of Egyptian immigrants, Rami Malek personally knows what it’s like to be the son of immigrants like Freddie was. So, for a film like Bohemian Rhapsody to celebrate the music and life of a person of extraordinary circumstances like Freddie played by an actor with a similar set of circumstances is encouraging in that Hollywood is starting to understanding that audiences genuinely enjoy films that have diverse representation. In preparation for this role of a lifetime to play this international music icon, Rami studied Freddie Mercury’s mannerisms, his talking patterns, his movements and so much more. While the winner of best actor is always a hotly debated category, it can safely be said that Rami did not win out of sheer luck. No, he won because of his persistence to truly mold himself into Freddie Mercury.
Actor in a Supporting Role – Mahershala Ali
First winning in this category for his supporting role in Moonlight in 2017, Mahershala Ali took home this award again for his performance in Green Book. Most notable about Mahershala’s roles, especially his Oscar-winning ones, is that they are aren’t colorblind. His roles show the realities of what it’s like to be a black man—the pain and the struggles as well as the victories and the triumphs—they celebrate the history and complexity of his race, a casting practice that is unfortunately underserved in entertainment today.
Actress in a Leading Role – Olivia Coleman
The only nominee from The Favourite’s ten nominations to win, Olivia Coleman’s scattered speech of utter disbelief in her victory reminds us all to take pride in our work and to always believe in ourselves because, even when you’re pitted against the legendary Glenn Close, you might just win.
Actress in a Supporting Role – Regina King
Only the eighth African-American woman to win this award, Regina King’s win, like Mahershala Ali’s, is another example of a role that embraces one’s race and uses that platform to acknowledge and celebrate African-American history and culture.
Directing – Alfonso Cuarón
For the second year in a row, a director of Mexican descent has won Best Director. Not only did Roma win best cinematography and best foreign language film, but Alfonso Cuarón also took home the award for best director. Based off his own life as a child when he was raised by a houseworker, whom he built a strong relationship with, it is easy to understand how Alfonso’s passion project quickly became such a highly awarded masterpiece.
Animated Feature – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
A fan favorite, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, seemed an easy win to predict. Aside from the technical and musical components that made this film so impressive and enjoyable, it is remarkable and worthy of such a high honor because of the representational impact it has had on the children watching it. In their acceptance speech, the creators exclaimed their happiness of the film’s reception by children, explaining that when they hear children tell them “he [Miles Morales] looks like me…we feel like we’ve already won.” Films like this one remind us that we all deserve to be well-represented because seeing someone like yourself on the silver screen validates your experience and demonstrates that you are valued, and that you are worthy of being represented.
Production Design – Black Panther
Hannah Beachler, the film’s production designer made history this year not only as the first African-American woman to be nominated in this category, but also as the first African-American woman to win this award. A film beloved by millions for its representation of African culture, Black Panther went on to win two more Oscars, one for Best Costume Design and one for Best Original Score.
Best Original Song – “Shallow,” A Star is Born
A sure-fire win, "Shallow" has been serenating the hearts of America since its release in October 2018. Following an intimate performance of the song alongside co-star and director, Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga (a.k.a Mother Monster) won her first Oscar! Gaga, having now won multiple Grammys and an Oscar, is half way to becoming an EGOT (a person who has won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony). Lady Gaga has shared before that she struggled with pursuing her music career at first because others didn’t like the way she looked, but after a long battle of fearing what others would say, she decided to do what she loves. Gaga’s win reminds us to forget the haters, commit to our passion, and work our asses off until we become the person we always dreamed we could become.
Best Animated Short Film – Bao
Pixar's first female-directed short film, Bao, which was written and directed by Domee Shi, tells the story of an Asian-Canadian mother experiencing empty nest syndrome. Bao, similar to the significance of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Black Panther, offers people of Asian heritage to see characters who look like themselves and who share the same culture as them on the big screen. A short film about a mother feeling lonely after her child moves out may not seem too exciting to many people, but to the people who are finally getting to see their race and their culture represented and now awarded with the highest of cinematic honors, it means much more than an entertaining animated film can articulate.
An astounding number of films about and by minority and underserved individuals won awards at the 91st Annual Academy Awards and while these awards do not mend the racially tense wounds of our society today, they do; however, give sight on a hopeful and promising tomorrow, all the while reminding us that representation DOES matter. As we go forward into another year of filmmaking, let's continue sharing diverse voices, casting actors of all backgrounds, and making films that reflect all the people of the world. Let's do the right thing.