POC & Women Set Records at the 2019 Academy Awards

From actors to production designers, women and POC dominated the stage at the 91st annual Oscars ceremony.

Just weeks after diversity won big at the 2019 Grammy Awards, the Academy Awards followed in their trailblazing footsteps.

The host-less night started off strong, with comedy powerhouses Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Maya Rudolph welcoming the show’s audience. And following suit, the first five awards were given to women: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi won Best Documentary for Free Solo, Regina King (who inspired audiences during her Golden Globe acceptance speech when she pledged to produce projects that are “50% women” in the future) won Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk. “It’s appropriate for me to be standing here because I am an example of what happens when support and love is poured into someone,” King said after a heartfelt tribute to the mind that birthed the film’s story, James Baldwin, along with the film’s director, Berry Jenkins, who consistently approached the making of the film with love.

Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney won Best Makeup and Hairstyling for Vice, Ruth E. Carter won Best Costume Design for Black Panther, and Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart won best Production Design for Black Panther.

Within these five awards alone, history was made. Not only were women flooding the stage, but women of colour were racking in the trophies.

Beachler in particular was not only the first women hired by Marvel for production design, but she became the first African American to win the award for her work. Her win was a huge moment for her, as well as for the African American community, and her design partner, Jay Hart, could not have been more gracious during the award’s acceptance.

Further into the night, Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for Green Book, Domee Shi won Best Short Animated Film for Bao, and Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton won best Short Documentary Film for Period. End of Sentence, a movie about the stigma of menstruation and period equality.

Shi, a Chinese-Canadian graduate of Sheridan College’s prestigious animation program, had been a director for Pixar since 2011, but this past year, she became the first woman to direct a short film for Pixar. “75% enrolment in animation schools is now female. That’s going to create a shift in the industry. I feel like Bao coming out is a signal of change—that such a big studio has gotten behind such a culturally-specific short led predominantly by women,” Shi has said.

Moreover, Period. End of Sentence winning their award is a monumental moment, too. What originated as a high school project to bring awareness to women in rural India fighting for menstrual equality has turned into a global movement. As part of the high school project, students launched Kickstarter campaigns to supply schools in India with pad machines. The machines cost $11,000 each, and can produce a year’s worth of sanitary pads for an entire rural village. Period. End of Sentance’s win can allow for more funding. “We’ll see how many [pad machines] we can raise money for after the Oscars,” Zehtabchi said. “I still can’t believe it.”

Later, Spike Lee (whose first Oscar win was long overdue)Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, and Jordan Peele won Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, while the son of Egyptian immigrants, Rami Malek, won the coveted Best Actor award for Bohemian Rhapsody. 

“I am the son of immigrants from Egypt; I’m a first-generation American. And part of my story is being written right now,” Malek said in his acceptance speech. “I think about what it would have been like to tell little bubba Rami that one day this might happen to him, and I think his curly-haired little mind would be blown. That kid was struggling with his identity, trying to figure himself out.” Malek added that Bohemian Rhapsody was the tale of  “an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself. The fact that I’m celebrating him and this story with you tonight is proof that we’re longing for stories like this.

Inevitably, there was controversy. Green Book won Best Picture, and Best Original Screenplay despite underwhelming box office numbers, and scandals surrounding members of the cast and crew. Aside from the fact that lead actor Viggo Mortensen used the n-word in full while speaking about racial progress in America since the ’60s (“The oxygen immediately left the room,” journalist Dick W. Schulz said of the event), the all-white creative team behind Green Book did not adequately pay tribute to the weighty meaning of the Green Book artifact. The Green Book was an actual resource created by Victor Hugo Green that detailed the restaurants, stores, beauty shops, hotels, and private “tourist homes” that were welcoming to Black travellers. The book was published from 1937 to 1966, and was used as an essential document throughout all of America. Furthermore, Green Book barely even depicted a true story. Dr. Don Shirley’s entire family claims that the movie did not accurately represent Dr. Shirley and events within his life. In an interview with Shadow and Act, Maurice Shirley, Dr. Shirley’s older brother, disputes the film’s validity, including Dr. Shirley and Tony’s relationship, stating: “When you hear that Tony had been with him for 18 months, I can assure you, no chauffeur lasted with my brother for 18 months.”

Overall, the many wins promoting diversity and representation during the 91st Academy Awards proved to be a bright light in a time where it is much needed. There is no doubt that these talented and deserving award winners will pave the way for the future of the entertainment industry.