Arguably quite void of any daring political statements, this past Sunday’s 91st Academy Awards ceremony faced up to old ghosts. Yet, the Academy’s address of one particular ghost didn’t reach the standards of some critics.
In 2015, blogger April Reign’s tweet “#OscarsSoWhite, they asked to touch my hair” went viral. The tweet emerged following that year’s nominations, which failed to produce a single nominee of color in any of the lead or supporting actor categories. The tweet regained popularity during the 2016 Oscars, though took a step back during recent years following a slight increase in nomination diversity and the emergence of the #MeToo movement.
Despite the controversy surrounding the ceremony’s lack of a host, the night opened with historic potential, with the nominee list representing one of the Academy’s most diverse groups yet. Following a performance by Queen’s surviving members fronted by Adam Lambert, Regina King won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” giving hope for a not-so-white Oscars.
The night consisted of many more wins for minorities, including two firsts for African-Americans in production and costume design, both attributed to the acclaimed film “Black Panther.” “Marvel may have created the first black superhero,” Ruth Carter said in her acceptance speech for Best Costume Design, “but through costume design, we turned him into an African King.” Carter’s speech eloquently described the groundbreaking nature of her win, serving as a catalyst for the rest of the night’s momentum.
Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white picture “Roma” took home many awards as well, including Best Cinematography and Best Director, following his success with the film “Gravity.” “Roma” encapsulates Cuarón’s own upbringing in Mexico City and stars Yalitza Aparicio, a Mexican actress of indigenous descent.
However, the momentum slowed with the presentation of the Best Picture going to “Green Book.” While the film’s storyline follows an African-American musician during the Jim Crow era, many critics have deemed the story to be less than innovative, or, as deemed by the Atlantic writer David Sims, “an old-fashioned paean to brotherhood and racial harmony based on the so-called true friendship between the musician Don Shirley and the bouncer Tony Vallelonga.”
During his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, Mahershala Ali thanked Shirley himself, despite previous complaints from Shirley’s family concerning the film’s accuracy. While the evening’s best picture award served as a surface-level win for a not-so-white Oscars, this feel-good approach to racism has been awarded time and time again by the Academy.
On paper, 2019 served up a not-so-white Academy Awards. However, as witnessed by millions, the ghosts of Oscars’ past were again prevalent Sunday evening. Granting what has been deemed a racial cliché the best picture win reeks a bit of #OscarsSoWhite.