BY SABA FIAZUDDIN ’21
The 91st Academy Awards took place on Sunday night, marking the culmination of a monthslong awards season. The Academy managed to land itself in so many controversies in the weeks leading up to the night that it seemed highly likely that the show would sink into oblivion before reaching Sunday. The fact that the show managed to be one of the most engaging Academy Awards ceremonies in recent years is a testament to its structural changes.
The first controversy was the Academy’s decision to cut editing and cinematography awards and live performances from the telecast, a decision they soon reversed after a public outcry. Then actor and comedian Kevin Hart was hired and subsequently fired as the show’s host after some of his past homophobic comments resurfaced from Twitter. Rather than select a new host for the show, the Academy chose to simply forego the position entirely — this year’s Oscars were hostless for the first time since 1989
Ultimately, both decisions proved to be good ones. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance of “Shallow” from their nominated film “A Star is Born” was one of the most memorable moments of the night. The show also worked just fine without a host; the absence actually improved the pacing and shortened the length of the ceremony without cutting out any awards. “The Oscars have always been super long so I have always avoided watching the live show,” said Sonya Zaib ’20. “But this time it was short and smooth and made for a really fun show.”
The Academy’s decision to welcome a more diverse voting body was reflected in the awards given this year. Three out of the four acting Oscars — Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor — were awarded to people of color. Spike Lee won Best Adapted Screenplay — his first Oscar win. Production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth Carter also became the first black winners ever in their categories. A record 15 women took home Oscars Sunday night and completely swept the shorts categories, a sign of greater inclusivity after the many blunders the Academy has made in regards to diversity in the past.
A controversial win for the night turned out to be “Greenbook” for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Despite facing widespread criticism that it was a “white savior narrative” and complaints from the family of one of the characters on whose life the story was based, “Greenbook” entered the awards season as a likely contender and took three Oscars on Sunday night. The directing nominations once again featured no female filmmakers; despite Debra Granick (“Leave no Trace”) and Tamara Jenkins (“Private Life”) receiving wide acclaim for their films this year, neither movie was nominated in any category.
One factor which worked much to the advantage of the Academy was the unpredictability of the awards. Olivia Coleman took Best Actress for her performance in “The Favourite,” despite Glenn Close being touted as most likely to win Best Actress for much of the awards season. “Greenbook” took away Best Picture even though “Roma” was predicted by most to win the coveted award.
Despite controversy and setbacks, the Academy’s decision to diversify its voting body re-energized the show and set a benchmark for future award ceremonies to follow.