The Oscars last night had a blend of the many challenges and triumphs seen in previous years. The majority of the winners, as well as the nominees, fell into a common thread of mostly white, and mostly male - a trend that was only slightly changed in last year’s encouraging moments of firsts for many diverse and unrecognized communities.
While this year was mostly predictable (except for the welcome, yet confusing performance of “Lose Yourself” by Eminem), there were also inspiring moments of pushing for change and recognizing the need for voices of all types to come to the forefront:
Janelle Monae’s Opening Number
Probably my favorite moment of the night was Janelle Monae’s unexpected and outstanding performance to open the evening. Janelle Monae is never boring and brought out the power of creativity in film that is often missed in the formality of award shows. She did a very special shout out to all of the lovely female directors (none of which were nominated in the Best Director category this year) and reminded us to celebrate Black History Month as a queer, black voice getting the chance to shine in this space. Additionally, as a horror film lover, I was very pleased to see the costumes in the opening number recognizing many films including Us and Midsommer which were critically praised yet were left entirely unrecognized by any award nominations this year.
“Hair Love” wins Best Animated Short
If the content of the beautiful short film “Hair Love” wasn’t enough to make you sob, the speeches of Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver reminded us of the importance of representation in animation. Toliver said “It was a labor of love.. Because we have a firm belief that representation matters deeply, especially in cartoons because in cartoons that’s when we first see our movies, that’s how we shape our lives, that’s how we see ourselves.” Matthew A. Cherry also mentioned the importance of the CROWN Act, only passed in New York, New Jersey, and California so far, which bans discrimination against natural hair types and styles. This pair also went as far as to bring DeAndre Arnold, a young teen who was told he could not walk at graduation because of his dreadlocks, as their special guest for the evening. So many beautiful moments surround this piece of work- hair acceptance, diversity in animation, as well as fighting the stigmas of black fatherhood involvement. This was a well-deserved win. Grab your tissues now and watch “Hair Love” on YouTube.
Blending of Cultures in Frozen II’s “Into the Unknown” performance
It’s rare that American audiences ever hear those who voice the many versions of a film that are dubbed in languages other than English. Last night changed the standard with nine different Elsa's performing alongside the English-speaking Elsa, Idina Menzel. While the film has been translated into over 45 languages, it was inspiring to see a multilingual version that recognized even a small group of these talented women from all over the world.
Taika Waititi and Indigenous Recognition
There were many moments throughout the night encouraging younger audiences to pursue their dreams. A stand-out moment was Taika Waititi’s heartfelt dedication of his award which he said was given to “all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and write and dance and who are the original storytellers”. Later in the night between awards, Taika was given the opportunity to recognize that the lands of the ceremony were once inhabited by the Tongva, Tataviam, and Chumash people. This was a first for the ceremony and hopefully will not be a forgotten piece in future award shows.
Because of the missing female nominations for several technical categories including best director, it was incredibly imperative that moments of recognition for female voices were a part of the speeches, introductions, and the evening over all. Sigourney Weaver, Brie Larson and Gal Gadot who have all played superheroes in their acting careers reminded us that “all women are superheroes”. Sigourney then went on to introduce the first female conductor in the history of the Oscars to conduct the best score nomination overture. Another important musical moment was female “Joker” composer Hildur Guðnadóttir’s win in which she encouraged young, musical women to step up and speak out. Hildur was the first woman to win in this category in 23 years! Additionally, the documentary short category, director Carol Dysinger spoke about how their piece is about those who “teach girls courage to raise their hand, to say :’I am here, I have something to say, and I’m going to take that ramp’.
Huge Wins for “Parasite”
The most unpredictable moments from the Oscars were the wins for the amazing work of Bong Joon Ho and the cast/crew for the movie “Parasite”. Not only did this movie win Best International Feature and Best Director, but it won Best Picture making it the first non-English Language film to win in this category. This is a historic moment for Korean film and for the film industry over all. Bong Joon Ho’s speeches were filled with surprise, delight and gratitude for his mentors and colleagues, including a call out with a quote from his fellow nominee Martin Scorsese which he said greatly influenced his path as an artist. In the final moments of the Best Picture speech, producer Miky Lee took the mic to speak and the lights went out to cue that they were out of time. The audience cheered and pressured the event team to turn the lights back up so that she could finish her thank you. With roaring cheers and high energy, the night finished on a positive and uplifting note.
Overall, while there is still work to be done with the overwhelming whiteness of the nominations, there were still many highlights from the night that showed a glimmer of hope in the way of diversity, female power, connection through cultural understanding, and the importance of the societal impact of art.