Nods to ethnic diversity and populist choices held sway at Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony, as “Bohemian Rhapsody” led the pack with four awards, “Black Panther” and "Roma" followed close behind with three each and “Green Book” took home the top prize of best picture.
The win for Peter Farrelly’s polarizing "Green Book," based on the true story of a black musician who toured the segregated South with a white driver, seems sure to fuel further criticism of racism within Hollywood. Still, this was the show where Spike Lee won his first competitive Oscar, for best adapted screenplay for his "BlacKkKlansman."
The crowd-pleasing and fast-paced show came after several chaos-filled weeks, beginning with Kevin Hart’s withdrawal as host in December. Then came a series of gaffes by the Academy, including a decision to announce several important awards during commercial breaks, though all were walked back after protests.
So how did the Oscars manage their first hostless ceremony in 30 years? Surprisingly and remarkably well. Given that the last such ceremony was an unmitigated disaster — just look up “1989 Oscars” and “Rob Lowe” — this show did its best to stay tasteful and low-key. Although Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were tasked with presenting the first award, for best supporting actress, to Regina King, they essentially delivered a stealth opening monologue. (“Roma’s on Netflix?” Fey cracked. “What’s next, my microwave making a movie?”) Unlike actual hosts, they kept the shtick short, got offstage before their welcome wore out and turned the stage over to King, who delivered a tearful speech thanking her mother for teaching her that God “always has been leaning in my direction.”
King, who won for her portrayal of a troubled mother in "If Beale Street Could Talk," set a tone for a ceremony that — despite years of #OscarSoWhite — paid tribute to a number of African-Americans. Mahershala Ali won best supporting actor for “Green Book” and said playing the character of Don Shirley, a musician who toured the segregated South in 1962, “pushed me to my edge.” The superhero film “Black Panther” turned costume designer Ruth Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler into the first African-American Oscar winners in their fields.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Beachler, tearful and visibly shaking as she struggled to read her acceptance speech from her phone.
Alfonso Cuarón, during his best-director acceptance speech, thanked the Academy for honoring a film about an indigenous person and a domestic worker, “a character that has historically been relegated to the background in cinema.”
The show’s one major surprise came when Glenn Close, widely seen as the front-runner for best actress for her performance in “The Wife,” lost the award to Olivia Colman, who played Queen Anne in “The Favourite.” It was the only one of that film’s 10 nominations to translate into a win.
Elsewhere, the rock biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” continued its unlikely awards streak. At the Oscars, the film was feted with the opening musical number, by Queen and Adam Lambert, and later by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, who reprised their Queen-loving roles from “Wayne’s World.” The film won for film editing, sound mixing, sound editing and best actor for Rami Malek, who played Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
“We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life unapologetically himself,” said Malek, noting that he is a first-generation American. “The fact that I’m celebrating his story tonight is proof that we’re longing for stories like this.”