The 91st Academy Awards took place on Feb. 24. Once again, the ceremony exhibited not only the glitz and glamour of the red carpet but also new experiences that we’ve never seen in past awards ceremonies.
This year, there was no host to the ceremony for the first time in history. Instead, actresses Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler opened up the show with a few jokes about how there was no host. The show continued as it has in the past with nominees of the several categories announcing the winners of the prestigious Oscar awards.
Most notably, however, was the diversity that was presented on stage and screen alike.
“Roma,” the 1970s Mexican drama following the story of housemaids working for a wealthy family and taking care of their four children, took home awards for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film.
Lead actress Yalitza Aparicio was the first Indigenous American woman, the fourth Latina and second Mexican woman to receive a Best Actress nomination.
Spike Lee earned his first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman,” which details the true story of Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer who infiltrated a local Ku Klux Klan branch.
The Marvel film “Black Panther” won Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and Best Original Music Score.
“Into the Spider-Verse,” the new animated Spider-Man film with Miles Morales, a mixed race Brooklyn teenager as Spider-Man, won Best Animated Feature.
The short film “Bao,” a story about a mother experiencing empty nest syndrome after her son leaves home told from a Chinese family perspective, won Best Animated Short, which not only made director Domee Shi the first woman to direct a short film at Pixar but also the first woman of color to win in this category.
In previous years, the Academy has been criticized for being too biased in favor of straight, white male creators and for not giving a voice to creators who fall outside of that mold. While the ceremony this year was much more diverse and socially aware, there are still a few questions to be asked. These questions mainly focus on two of the most talked about and most awarded films of the evening: “Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“Green Book” follows the story of Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, played by Viggo Mortensen, the cab driver for world-renowned Black pianist Dr. Donald Walridge Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali.
The biopic is about the many accomplishments of Dr. Shirley, including but not limited to writing symphonies and concerti for multiple instruments. He also did a number of concert tours in the deep south during the 1960s, something incredibly dangerous as a Black man in a racially segregated America. It was because of this that Shirley even hired Vallelonga in the first place to be his driver and bodyguard.
The film is no more than another example of a “white savior” story, where the racist Vallelonga is the main character who teaches a Black man how to eat fried chicken and introduces him to black pop music. The two become unlikely friends. The film was directed by Nick Vallelonga, Tony’s son, who claims that “everything in the film is true,” despite a number of Shirley’s surviving family members who pushed hard against the film’s story, with Shirley’s brother Maurice stating that the film is “full of lies.”
Despite this, however, the film was touted by white critics and the Academy as being a moving piece about racism and how a racist white man can look past his and a Black man’s differences to become friends. It was awarded the highest honor of the night, Best Picture.
The “white savior” trope is a harmful and insulting one. Nick Vallelonga’s heinous retelling of Dr. Shirley’s life story is simply a way for him to turn his father into a hero that he most certainly was not.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” was another film which received several awards including Best Actor, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing and Best Sound Editing, while also being a nominee for Best Picture. The film is a biopic about Freddie Mercury, the front man for the British rock band Queen. While I have my own opinions regarding some of the film’s awards, my criticism about the praise the film has gotten is more so about the director of the film.
Bryan Singer, who also directed the “X-Men” franchise, was fired from the project during its production due to a lawsuit filed against him by a man named Cesar Sanchez-Guzman, who accused Singer of assaulting him in 2003 when Sanchez-Guzman was only 17 years old. Following this news break, four other men came out and stated that Singer assaulted them, all when they were underage.
Though Singer was replaced by director Dexter Fletcher, 20th Century Fox was unable to discredit him from the film altogether, which technically still makes him an Oscar winner. How the Academy could put such high praise on a film directed by a pedophile, I cannot fathom.
The 2018 Academy Awards and many award ceremonies in 2018 overall had a massive focus on the issues surrounding sexual assault in Hollywood, culminating in the massive ongoing #MeToo movement. Yet it seems that because the movement is no longer making front-page news, everyone in Hollywood can take a seat and watch something like this unfold.
I cannot imagine what this must be like for survivors of Singer’s abuse, seeing someone who hurt and traumatized them and his work be praised at such a high standard. The worst part is that I can’t say I’m surprised. Hollywood has been and continues to be, not only protective of racists but serial abusers as well.
The Academy Awards, though seemingly fun to watch, have once again ended up being a performative stunt to give the white elite a pat on the back for thinking about how bad things like racism, sexual assault and pedophilia are.
I applaud the films and those who worked on them whose stories were representative of groups that aren’t just white, straight and male, and to those winners who made history that night.
Hopefully, in the coming years, and with new social movements beginning every day and currently existing movements growing stronger, the industry can be changed for the better.
Feedback for writer:
- Format of dates: Feb. 24 not February 24th
- Make paragraphs shorter
- Watch for run-on sentences