There may not have been any Kevin Hart yelling “nooooo, I wasn’t ready!” to any of the nominees, but the 91st Academy Awards brought the blackness.
February 2019 has provided us a horrible Black History Month so far, but queens such as Regina King and blackety-black films such as Black Panther swooped in to save the day. In fact, Black Panther’s wins brought home Marvel Studios’ first-ever Oscar statuettes.
As I did at the Grammys, I hung out in the press room amongst my fellow journalists and delicious food (shrimp!). This time, The Root’s weekend editor Jay Connor came along for the ride. We were tag-team partners, oscillating on press room questions. We killed it.
The first few awards were very, very black. #OscarsSoBlack? Suffice to say, Jay and I were pleased.
Regina King won her first Academy Award for Actress in a Supporting Role in If Beale Street Could Talk. It’s an extra flex, because this was also her first nomination. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Regina BEEN King.
“To be standing here representing one of the greatest artists of our time, James Baldwin — it’s a little surreal,” said a tearful King. “James Baldwin birthed this baby and Barry, you nurtured her, you surrounded her with so much love and support, so it’s appropriate for me to be standing here because I’m an example of what it looks like when support and love is poured into someone.”
As I watched King receive her well-deserved award, I immediately thought of the emotionally wrought scene she played opposite actress Emily Rios, in which King’s character Sharon finally confronts Fonny’s accuser Victoria (Rios). I asked King about the particular inspiration she drew from to portray such raw and visceral emotion.
As King told The Root in the press room:
You know, all of us, we just pulled on being women, and if we have not experienced a violation on that level firsthand, we have lifted a sister up through that. And that, you know, even all the way from when the abuelitas came in and escorted her off, that was something that was universal. Every woman that had something to do with this production, the understanding and the need to make sure that it was very clear in the story that we all knew that she was raped. It wasn’t Fonny, but she was raped. And we hold each other up through a secret that shouldn’t be a secret.
So often, that’s the beautiful thing about the Me Too Movement—and the Me Too Movement has, I think, has gone even beyond that with creating opportunities for women to find their voice even beyond just being violated sexually, but being marginalized, being violated. When you have put in the work to be at the table and being denied a seat at the table, this movement has allowed us and has inspired us to say “no, I am supposed to have a seat at that table.” So that energy was going on throughout the production of that film of this film. Barry [Jenkins] supported that and lifted it up as well. And that’s the thing. When you have men and women working together, pretty amazing things happen.
Third time was the charm for Ruth Carter (the iconic costume designer for your favorite black film—just pick one), finally getting her due with a win for Costume Design (Black Panther).
“I got it!” Carter exclaimed onstage. It was a perfect opener for her acceptance speech.
Backstage, Jay touched on Ruth’s historical moment—long overdue, given her impressive resumé. On being the first black person to win an Academy Award in Costume Design, Carter told The Root:
Well, it just means that we’ve opened up the door. Finally the door is wide open. And I’ve been struggling and, you know, digging deep, and mentoring, and doing whatever I could to raise others up. And I hope through my example this means that there is hope, and other people can come on in and win an Oscar just like I did.
Hannah Beachler became the first African American person to win the Academy Award for Production Design (Black Panther). Not only did she make history when she was hired for the film, she also made history by winning the highest achievement for her work.
“When you think it’s impossible, just remember to say this piece of advice I got from a very wise woman: I did my best, and my best is good enough,” concluded Beachler in her acceptance speech, her hands shaking from raw emotion.
Unsurprisingly, Mahershala Ali completed his awards season sweep, winning Actor in a Supporting Role (Green Book). It’s his second win in the category in three years.
The popular and critically acclaimed Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse also received its well-deserved win, scooping the Animated Feature Film Oscar. Shout-out to director Peter Ramsey—this was his first nomination. A night of firsts!
Ramsey is the first African American to win the Best Animated Feature, and Jay asked him about the importance of capturing Miles Morales, an Afro Latino teen brought to life in the most intriguing way. Ramsey was thoughtful in his response:
Yeah. It’s a huge responsibility. This is something that is going to be seen and taken to heart by millions of people, but everybody has to know that our whole team, I mean, the guys standing up on this stage, as well as those other hundreds of artists that I was talking about earlier, all of them deeply felt the importance of that idea and that mission. So Miles had a lot of backup. He had a lot of people who really loved him as a character, believed in this story and knew how important it was going to be—you know, black kids, Latino kids, kids who just want to be their best selves, no matter who they are. So everybody gave it 110 percent, and we are very gratified that people are receiving his story in the spirit in which we put it out.
And the “Best Oscar Winner Announcement” award goes to ... Samuel L. Jackson! Jackson yelled, “Spike Leeeeee” as Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Lee won for Writing (Adapted Screenplay).
“Before the world tonight, I give praise for our ancestors who helped build this country and [unintelligible] today along with the genocide of its native people,” Lee said onstage. “If we all connect with our ancestors, we will have love, wisdom, we will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment. The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there!”
Wakanda’s music is also forever, scoring the Music (Original Score) Oscar.
Shout-out to Octavia Spencer copping her a production award for Green Book, which won Best Picture. And that’s all I have to say about that!
But, since W. Kamau Bell is expecting thinkpieces, maybe we should give him a show? Michael Harriot? Monique Judge? *wink*
The blackest and most lit press room interview has to go to Lee. He came onstage with a celebratory drink in his hand and kept taking a sip after every question.
“Every time someone is driving somebody, I lose!” exclaimed Lee, who was, of course, referencing Driving Miss Daisy, which won Best Picture in 1990 while Do The Right Thing was notoriously snubbed in that category. This is Lee’s first competitive Oscar win; he has an honorary statuette.
I do have to say the noticeable benefit to there not being a host this year was that the Academy managed to pull off the seemingly impossible: an under 3-and-a-half hours telecast.
For the full list of winners for the 91st Academy Awards, head to oscars.com.