I’d like to thank the Academy... and I’d also like to admit that I am not qualified to write an article about the 91st Academy Awards. First of all, I’m an uncouth piglet (never say “uncultured swine” again); RBG is the only film nominated for an Oscar this year that I’ve seen. (I am utterly disappointed that it didn’t win Best Documentary.) In a similar vein, when I told someone I was going to cover the Oscars for The News-Letter, he strongly implied that I wasn’t fit to comment on red carpet fashion because I don’t wear designer clothing.
“My mom doesn’t let me shop at Old Navy,” he said.
“My mom would disown me if I didn’t,” I replied.
Thirdly, I watched only about the last 45 minutes of the ceremony. I’ve deduced that a highlight of the evening was Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s borderline erotic performance of “Shallow” from A Star is Born. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness their soft porno of sorts myself. I got out of work at 10 p.m. and then went to Chipotle. (Weird flex, I know.)
Nevertheless, the show must go on! (Don’t expect any hot takes; I am only informed enough to generate tepid ones.) I may be inept, but at least this article has a (metaphorical) host; the Oscars did not have one this year — for the first time in three decades — because Kevin Hart stepped down following public backlash due to several alleged homophobic tweets from 2010 and 2011 coming to light. Even without a host, it seems the ceremony went swimmingly.
Speaking of firsts, and on a more uplifting note, Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler became the first African-American women in history to win in their categories, Costume Design and Production Design, respectively — both for Black Panther.
I’m also pleased to say that, before apparently falling off stage, Rami Malek won Best Actor in a Leading Role for starring as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.
During his acceptance speech, he told the audience that they were his equals. Then he said we were his betters. I’m not sure how to reconcile those two positions, but I feel important anyway.
I’m glad he won because my friend threatened on Instagram to set herself on fire if he did not. Another friend wasn’t nearly as fortunate; she buried her face into her blanket and nearly burst into tears after Green Book won Best Picture.
To be honest though, I was surprised by Green Book’s victory. From what I’ve gathered, the film perpetuates the idea of the ‘white savior’ — the narrative trope whereby a white character (in this case, nightclub bouncer Tony Vallelonga) rescues a person of color (black pianist Don Shirley). According to Vanity Fair film critic K. Austin Collins, the film oversimplifies decades of American race relations. A.O. Scott, chief film critic for the New York Times, agrees.
“There’s not much here you haven’t seen before, and very little that can’t be described as crude, obvious and borderline offensive, even as it tries to be uplifting and affirmative,” he wrote in a review of the film.
Terry Teachout, drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, argued that the film portrays Vallelonga uniquely as its hero, with Shirley depicted “almost entirely through his eyes.” Teachout characterized Green Book as incongruous with “today’s heightened racial sensitivities.”
And at first, I wondered whether stage performer Billy Porter’s velvet tuxedo gown — a black bolero jacket and matching velvet Christian Siriano dress — at the Oscars was, like Vallelonga and Shirley’s idyllic embrace at the end of Green Book, well-intentioned but mismatched with today’s more acute sensitivities.
Yes, I acknowledged to myself, Porter dazzled. It was super fucking dope that he was using the red carpet to advocate genderfluid attire and authentic self-expression. But what Porter’s stylist Sam Ratelle told Page Six Style sounded less innovative and innocuous.
“When [Porter] started wearing dresses recently, that was very specific because of all the stuff that was going on in the White House regarding transgender rights,” he said. “We started talking about it and we’re like, we have to start representing these people because you have to normalize that somehow publicly. There has to be visibility.”
There’s a distinction, I thought to myself, between subverting gender role expectations and being subtly transphobic. I concede that I shop at Old Navy, but I think I’m justified in saying that Ratelle seems to equate being transgender with wearing a costume.
However, from what he said to Vogue, Porter appears not to share the misguided aspirations of his stylist.
“My goal is to be a walking piece of political art every time I show up. To challenge expectations,” he said. “What is masculinity? What does that mean? Women show up every day in pants, but the minute a man wears a dress, the seas part.”
He recounted how, growing up, he had faced homophobia in response to his clothing choices, and explained his sense of empowerment upon trying on the gown for the first time.
“I felt alive. I felt free. And open, and radiant. And beautiful! Which has not always been the case for me,” he said. “I haven’t always felt so good about myself.”
I applaud Porter’s rebellion against the Hollywood dress code that reflects and reinforces our gender role expectations. I hope that future guests at the Academy Awards continue to use their platform to overthrow toxic institutions of our society, and I hope that the Academy continues to celebrate diverse artists.
This year, three of the four acting winners weren’t white. Best Documentary, Documentary Short, Animated Short, Production Design, Costume Design and Sound Editing all featured female nominees. Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio didn’t win, but she was the first indigenous woman to be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Who knows, maybe you will someday win an Oscar! As The Favourite’s Olivia Colman said through tears during her heartwarming acceptance speech for Best Actress, “you never know!” And I promise that if a Blue Jay is nominated for an Oscar, I will do my best to watch every minute of the ceremony.