Although the Oscars were over two weeks ago, the impact of this year’s awards is significant, and remains a major topic of conversation and contention.
It has been a tumultuous year for the Academy Awards, between the controversy surrounding the loss of Kevin Hart as host, and the backlash it received for attempting to not televise certain categories. Tensions were high going into the night.
In the end, The Oscars’ lack of a host worked quite well. The show remained punchy and on track without the unnecessary bits and gimmicks that often make the night drag on. Strong presenters including comedians Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey kept the night fun and upbeat.
The event started off strong, with a diverse group of deserving winners. Breakthrough wins included Spike Lee’s first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his film BlacKkKlansman, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s win for Best Animated Feature Film, Ruth E. Carter’s victory for Best Costume Design category and Hannah Beachler’s win for Best Production Design, both for the film Black Panther. Both Carter and Beachler were the first Black women to ever win in their respective categories. In addition, Alfonso Cuarón won awards for Best Cinematography, Director, and lastly, Foreign Language Film for his film Roma.
At the end of the night, however, came a major disappointment, with the Green Book win for Best Picture. Not only was the film shrouded in controversy — the family of Don Shirley, the African-American musician the film portrays, denounced the movie as inaccurate — but the film fell short of plot and style, unlike many other spectacular films on the docket this year, such as BlacKkKlansman and The Favourite. Green Book is viewed by many as a completely oversimplified and problematic portrayal of race relations in the 1960s. What the Academy Awards saw as the safe and palatable choice, was in fact a damaging “white savior” film in which Viggo Mortensen’s character “discovers” racism while driving Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, through the Deep South. Instead of the powerful message about race and friendship that the film attempted to establish, what came across was a white man saving a Black man from the terror of southern racism.
Many critics and fans alike noted the parallels between this year’s Best Picture winner and the 1989 film, Driving Miss Daisy, a similarly simplified film about race relations, that won the award while Spike Lee’s renowned and provocative film, Do the Right Thing, was snubbed.
This comparison has caused many to question the relevancy and importance of the Academy Awards and what films they deem “best”, as Do the Right thing lives on as a greatly revered classic with themes and ideas that remain relevant to this day, while Driving Miss Daisy is hardly discussed at all.
In the end, Green Book’s win signifies a great misunderstanding by the Academy. They aimed to give viewers what they wanted by way of a “safe and easy” choice that ended up being controversial and reflective of the growing obsolescence of the awards show.