2019 Academy Awards walks shaky line between diversity and tradition

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The months leading up to the 2019 Academy Awards have been tumultuous to say the least. From the will-they-won’t-they struggle of finding a host to the tension surrounding the presentation of performances and categories on the live telecast, many questioned the success of an awards ceremony shrouded in so much controversy.

Though the show featured some pleasantly surprising wins and an impressive number of awards given to artists of color, the moments we could champion were quickly snuffed out by those that disappointed. And in this, it was evident that this year’s Academy had trouble deciding whether to value progress or uphold antiquated and misguided traditions. Without further ado, here is The Daily Californian’s 2019 Academy Awards recap.

In lieu of a traditional opening musical number or a monologue from a host, the 2019 Academy Awards began with a performance from Queen and Adam Lambert. The performance undoubtedly revved up the crowd at the ceremony — but gave the show a bit of an offbeat start, setting the tone for a nontraditional and fast-paced ceremony to follow.

Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler started off the show by throwing out the traditional jokes about nominees, young and old, and the many real-life characters that they portrayed in film this past year.

The first few awards of the night were relatively predictable. Regina King won the first award of the night for her beautiful performance in Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk.” “Free Solo” won Best Documentary Feature, honoring the blockbuster film about Alex Honnold, who became the first climber to free-climb the 900-meter El Capitan wall in Yosemite National Park. “Vice” won for hair and makeup, and a wonderfully costume-heavy introduction by Brian Tyree Henry and Melissa McCarthy was a comedic precursor to a much-deserved win for Ruth E. Carter’s costume design in “Black Panther.”

The telecast carried on rather briskly, considering there wasn’t any casual banter between awards presentations — Tyler Perry introduced the award for cinematography with a nod to the Academy’s decision to telecast all of the awards, rather than subjugating any awarded filmmakers to brisk final recaps or commercial breaks. Alfonso Cuarón won that award, pre-empting his success later on in the ceremony — and became the first person to win the category for serving as director of photography on his own film.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” took home awards for sound editing and sound mixing, for bringing in and incorporating elements of Freddie Mercury’s voice and style into a story on the origins and success of Queen.

Javier Bardem and Angela Bassett introduced the nominations for Best Foreign Film, with “Roma” taking home its second win of the night, a predictable but well-deserved victory. Trevor Noah presented “Black Panther” with a comedic introduction met with raging applause. Next, clad in a winning beanie and wire-rimmed glasses, Mahershala Ali took home Best Performance by Actor in a Supporting Role for “Green Book.” This makes him the second Black actor, after Denzel Washington, to ever win two Oscars.

Following a less-than-stellar performance of “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” satisfyingly won Best Animated Feature Film for its stunning comic style and CGI animation. “Bao” triumphantly secured Best Animated Short and “Period. End of Sentence.” won in the Documentary Short Subject category. “A period should end a sentence,” said the film’s director Rayka Zehtabchi, “not a girl’s education.”

For Achievement in Visual Effects, “First Man” came back from the dead after all but disappearing from the public eye shortly after its release in October of last year.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper took the stage to perform the hit song “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born.” The performance itself was a powerful stand-alone tribute to the film as a whole, which received limited recognition during the ceremony. It also served as a prime opportunity to witness Gaga’s theatrical talent onstage.

“Green Book” won the award for Best Original Screenplay, trumping “The Favourite” and “Roma” for the prize. The rather disappointing win was more than made up for after “BlacKkKlansman” took home the prize for adapted screenplay, providing director Spike Lee with much needed and more importantly, much deserved, recognition. Pure joy could be seen in Lee’s face as he jumped into Samuel L. Jackson’s arms when stepping on stage, hopping around gleefully. Lee took time in his speech to urge the public to vote in the upcoming 2020 presidential election and to “Do the right thing.”

Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, a threateningly beautiful pair, announced the nominations for best original score and best original song. “Black Panther” original score composer Ludwig Göransson picked up this Oscar. This was followed by a “Black Panther” loss, with the film snubbed for the Best Original Song win. Instead, the award predictably but welcomingly went to “Shallow” from “A Star is Born.”

Confusingly, Barbra Streisand introduced the audience to “BlacKkKlansman” rather than “A Star is Born” (a film she was in over 40 years ago). Nonetheless, Streisand sang her praise for the film, calling it an “unflinching look at race relations in America” while connecting with Lee since they are both from Brooklyn.

The award for Best Actor in a Leading Role went to a pair of prosthetic teeth, but Rami Malek accepted the award on their behalf. Malek stated in his speech that Freddy Mercury was a person trying to find his place in the world and that as a son of two immigrants from Egypt, it is a story he deeply relates to — a sentimental speech that almost made up for the disappointment of this win.

Following this, Frances McDormand, as adorable as ever, and Sam Rockwell, surprisingly bald compared to his George Bush in “Vice,” got straight to the point in announcing the nominations for best actress. Olivia Colman, to everyone’s surprise but immediate joy, won Best Actress in a Leading Role. Emotionally giddy and timid, Coleman made it impossible for anyone in that audience or viewers at home to be mad about her win.

From that charming win, we were lilted into the best director award which went to Alfonso Cuarón. He thanked the academy for recognizing a film that centered around an indigenous woman and acknowledging a story rarely seen in the public. “Muchas gracias, Libo. Muchas gracias a mi familia y muchísimas gracias a México,” he said as he left the stage, making it powerfully clear that this was an intimate film for Cuarón and a universally significant film for Mexican representation.

This impressive step toward representation was brutally shattered with “Green Book” winning the best picture award. Though the film somewhat featured a POC story, this win mostly feels like the Academy comfortably acknowledging a controversial story campaigning as progressive. This win standing next to Cuarón’s win for best director is incredibly emblematic of the disjointed 2019 Academy Awards.

Maisy Menzies is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].

Anagha Komaragiri is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @aaanaghaaa.

Ryan Tuozzolo is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].