Oscars: women, people of color triumph on night of firsts (and seconds)

February 28, 2019

Oscar Sunday marked a night of important firsts — and seconds — for diverse artists and filmmakers and their Hollywood contributions.

The 2019 telecast started making history almost immediately. After Regina King accepted best supporting actress for If Beale Street Could Talk, Ruth E. Carter became the first African American woman to ever win best costume design, for her work on Marvel’s Black Panther.

“I dreamed of this night and I prayed for this night honestly…what it would mean not just for me but for young people coming behind me,” Carter told press backstage at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater. A nod to a new generation of costumers could have been expected, as the first person Carter thanked in her acceptance speech was Spike Lee. The director gave her her start, she said, and he was himself a multiple nominee on Sunday for BlacKkKlansman.

“I hope through my example this means there is hope. Other people can come on in and win an Oscar, just like I did,” Carter said.

The production designer of Black Panther, Hannah Beachler, took that advice to heart and proceed to win in her category minutes after Carter, the first time a woman of color had even been nominated in that space.

“When you think it’s impossible, just remember to say this piece of advice I got from a very wise woman: I did my best, and my best is good enough,” Beachler said in an emotional speech that kicked off with a shout out to New Orleans. Both Beachler and Carter’s wins are historic in multiple ways: An African American woman hasn’t won a non-acting Oscar in 30 years.

Mahershala Ali took the best supporting actor Oscar for Green Book, and now becomes the only other black performer besides Denzel Washington to have won more than one Academy Award. Ali thanked his director Peter Farrelly for “really giving us the space” to work out the complexity of his inter- sectional character Don Shirley (who was black and queer).

Despite Disney-Pixar often taking the animated feature category, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ended its clean-sweep of awards season against films including Incredibles 2.

Producers Phil Lord (a Cuban-American) and Chris Miller accepted the prize with directors including Peter Ramsey, for mounting the groundbreaking Sony Pictures Animation film that was the first to ever feature a Spider-Man of color (the Afro-Latino Miles Morales).

“To our audience, thank you so much. We love you, and we just want you all to know, we see you,” said Ramsey.

Female visibility above and below the line was incredibly strong, with Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney’s makeup and hairstyling win for Vice and Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton’s best documentary short win for Period. End of Sentence.

“I’m not crying because I have my period or anything,” a teary Berton said on stage. “I can’t believe a film about menstruation won an Oscar!”

Indeed, “Period” follows an enduring stigma around menstruation in rural parts of India and how it affects the lives and education of women.

Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb of Pixar also nabbed an animated short for Bao, and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Shannon Dill shared best documentary feature for Free Solo with Jimmy Chin and Evan Hayes.

Roma, in black-and-white and entirely in Spanish, netted Alfonso Cuaron wins for best director, cinematography and best foreign language film. For the whole of awards season, the director has been vocal about the spotlight the film has put on underrepresented people like his lead, the indigenous firsttime actress Yalitza Aparicio.

But perhaps it was chef and humanitarian Jose Andres who said it best, introducing the film as a best picture nominee on stage on Sunday.

“Immigrants and women move humanity forward,” he said.