Oscar’s Diverse and Divisive

 In Independent Feature Films

The 91st Academy Awards courted controversy from the get-go by hiring Kevin Hart as Host. It turns out, people remember when you’ve said homophobic slurs; especially on Twitter. To make matters worse, the Producers thought making the show shorter by awarding a few categories featuring less well-known nominees (cinematography, editing, make-up and hairstyling, and live-action shorts), off-camera, would be a good idea.

After a significant uproar from the film community, the Producers came to their senses and though host-less, the Show did go on.

 

This year’s program was one of the most diverse–both in Oscar Winners and in Presenters. Black Panther was the first Super Hero film to be nominated for Best Picture, and was awarded Oscars for Best Costume Design, Ruth E. Carter and Best Production Design, Hannah Beachler. The two women made history as African American women winning awards in non-acting roles. Regina King’s win for Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk and Mahershala Ali, Green Book added to that celebration of diversity.

Billy Porter, star of the TV series Pose, broke gender norms with his tuxedo-inspired ball gown (pictured below). Melissa McCarthy, Awkwafina, and Elsie Fisher walked the red carpet in pantsuits. There were moments of triumph for Egyptian Americans (Rami Malek winning Best Actor), Iranian Americans (Rayka Zehtabchi for Best Documentary Short), a record number of LGBTQ-inspired films nominated and Mexican Director Alfonso Cuarón applauding “…the Academy for recognizing a film centered around an indigenous woman. One of the 70 million domestic workers in the world without workers’ rights.”

 

There was some disappointment that Glenn Close didn’t win and silly gossip about Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s music performance and whether it signified an affair.

Then the envelope for Best Picture was opened and Green Book was the Oscar winner. A film that landed one of its stars (Viggo Mortensen, nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Frank Anthony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga) in hot water for use of the “N” word, Green Book was also boycotted by the family of the real Don Shirley. Was this another film about a White Savior–did it create drama with altercations that never happened so that the white character could come to the rescue?

Did Roma not win Best Picture because it was produced by Netflix? Was the “old guard” Hollywood voting with its pocketbook and trying to protect more traditional screening? Alfonso Cuarón had a great response. “For me the conversation about theatrical is super important… I’m a filmmaker. I believe in the theatrical experience. But there has to be diversity. The multiplex theatrical experience is a very gentrified experience. You have one kind of product with a few variations. It’s hard to see art-house films. It’s hard to see foreign films. Most theaters play big Hollywood movies.”

As Cuarón told IndieWire before the Roma premiere at the Venice Film Festival last August, the main reason he went to Netflix in the first place was that no other platform that would globally release a black-and-white, Spanish-language drama featuring a cast of mostly unknown actors.

The 2019 Oscar’s may have escaped the #OscarsSoWhite label this year, but we still have some work to do to change hearts and minds. Diversity and inclusion are important but with so many missteps, the Academy needs to continue to welcome a younger body of voters who are willing to change with the times.

Article by Jill C. Brooke. Writer for Scene Magazine and The Daily Planet in Colorado.

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