Charlie Wachtel, Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott (ABC/Craig Sjodin)
It’s been a few days since this year’s Oscars, and people are angry.
Rightly so: after a great night of historic wins, the Oscars went back to their typical reductionist roots and gave Green Book the highest honor of the night, Best Picture. Some personal missteps I felt the Oscars took was not giving Roma actress Yalitza Aparicio the award for Best Actress and, of course, everything that involved Bohemian Rhapsody‘s Rami Malek winning the award for Best Actor. I never thought I’d see the day where I actually cooled to Malek, but that day has finally come (at least for now).
However, with some backwards turns, I think Twitter is being its usual self with their outrage over the Oscars, which means that folks are being way to reactionary, emotionally-driven and short-sighted. If we take in the night as a whole, this was the best Oscars night we’ve had in a long time.
This night probably had the most firsts since 2002, the year Halle Berry, Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier were given Oscars. Black Panther, for instance, won three of its six Oscars nominations, including Best Original Music Score (Ludwig Göransson), Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter) and Best Production Design (Hannah Beachler, Jay Hart). Both Carter and Beachler became the first Black nominees in their respective categories to win. Even the film’s Best Picture nomination broadens the scope of what can be accepted as a legitimate Best Picture nominee.
Spike Lee finally got his first, long-deferred Oscar for his adapted screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, also nominated for Best Picture. Long-time film fans know that Lee has needed to win since the early ’90s with Do the Right Thing and especially with Malcolm X. BlacKkKlansman might not be Lee’s most groundbreaking or challenging work by far, in my opinion. But it has finally earned him that Oscar, and that’s great.
Regina King follows in the footsteps of Octavia Spencer and Mo’Nique for winning Best Supporting Actress for her role in If Beale Street Could Talk, and Mahershala Ali won his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Green Book, a win for POC Hollywood despite Ali having to unfortunately be tied to a film that does a disgrace to the real life Dr. Don Shirley. Even the Best Picture win gives more clout to Ali and executive producer Octavia Spencer, who has now earned her second Oscar thanks to this film.
Similarly, even though Malek’s win is tainted by the fact that the director of Bohemian Rhapsody, Bryan Singer, is an alleged serial pedophilic abuser, Malek’s win for Best Actor makes him the first Best Actor of Egyptian descent. Despite the negativity surrounding the film, his win will open the door for ME/North African actors who are looking to make their own Oscar turns in the industry.
Aparicio, whose debut acting role in Roma brought her to the Oscars, became the first indigenous actress from Mexico to be nominated for Best Actress. Even though she didn’t win, she still paves the way for others from little-seen marginalized communities to make it big in an industry that has historically been closed and unkind to them.
As a whole, Roma will also go far to opening up more doors for Latinx actresses and actors of all stripes, since it won Best Foreign Film, was nominated for Best Picture, and its director, Alfonso Cuarón, won Best Cinematography and Best Director. In fact, the film winning three of its five nominations shows how much the game has changed in the Oscars voting pool. In fact, Cuarón’s Best Director win makes this the fifth in six years a Latino director has won the title.
Animation had its day in the sun too, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse winning Best Animated Film. The win made Peter Ramsey, the first African-American to direct an animated film with Rise of the Guardians, the first Black animation director to win an Oscar. Philip Lord, who is a Spider-Verse co-director with his creative partner Christopher Miller, has also made waves for Latinx directors and animators with his win. Domee Shi also became the first Asian female director to win for her Pixar animated short, Bao, the second Pixar short to feature the Asian diaspora.
Even documentaries had a bright year, with Rayka Zehtabchi’s film surrounding gender and menstrual rights, Period. End of Sentence, winning for Best Short Documentary. Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap and RaMell Ross’ Hale County, This Morning This Evening were also nominated for Best Documentary Feature, providing more diversity to the documentary feature category in terms of both race and story.
Of course, wins like Green Book threaten to taint the entire feeling of progress. Yes, the Oscars have made big gains to diversify its voting board in terms of race, age and gender. But Green Book‘s win shows that the Oscars still have some years to go in order to become so diverse and forward-thinking that films like Green Book will get voted down.
But, at the end of the day, it’s okay to be mad about Green Book winning. Don’t think that because I’m writing with some clarity that I’m not mad about this film winning. However, it also pays to remember how societal gains don’t happen overnight. Overall, the night showed that while there’s still a ways to go, the Oscars, and even Hollywood as a whole, has made great strides in a very short time. Remember: just two years or so, we were complaining that the Oscars were too white. Now, we have a year in which a large percentage of the wins were non-white.
Look back in history: the Civil Rights Movement didn’t take just five minutes to change the world, and the architects of the movement didn’t expect to see any gains within their lifetimes. They knew they would have setbacks, and they were right. However, they were futurists. They were thinking in the long-term, not the short. They knew that they were laying the groundwork for a better tomorrow for generations to come. That’s literally what we’re living through when it comes to Hollywood’s Civil Rights moment.
Having a completely progressive Oscars isn’t going to take just one season for all of the work to be done. Having a progressive Oscars means changing the entirety of how Hollywood works. It means changing the industry from the top down, and that kind of uprooting is going to take some years. That also means that there will be setbacks. We will see some more Green Books win in the future. But hopefully, we’ll see less and less of them gain popularity until none of them make money anymore. Hopefully, we’ll see more Yalitzas and Ryan Cooglers and other game-changers take the stage, win awards, and keep building the groundwork for more gamechangers to come after them.
This Oscars wasn’t about the present. It was about showcasing a slice of the future. And because of that, I am happy.