Based on a real-life road trip through the deep south in the early 1960s, Green Book’s victory proved a considerable upset at the awards, after a night largely marked by predictability.
After Alfonso Cuarón took the best director award for Roma, a victory in the main category – to add to its best foreign language film and best cinematography wins – had seemed a certainty.
Rami Malek was named best actor for playing Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, following on from a string of other wins this awards season.
Regina King picked up the best supporting actress award for her role in Barry Jenkins’ emotive drama If Beale Street Could Talk, beating Bafta winner Rachel Weisz. A tearful King paid tribute to both Jenkins and James Baldwin, whose 1974 novel the film is based on, calling him “one of the great artists of our time”.
But the apple cart had already been upset 10 minutes before, when Olivia Colman snatched the best actress gong from frontrunner Glenn Close. And the warmth with which Academy voters had greeted Green Book was already proven by its wins in the best original screenplay and best supporting actor category.
In their speeches, the producers explained that the film was about “living together despite our differences”; they also dedicated the award to the late Carrie Fisher.
Named after the motoring handbook originally designed to help African American travellers avoid dangerous areas in the pre-civil rights US, Green Book is the story of black concert pianist Don Shirley and his Italian-American bodyguard/driver Tony Vallelonga, AKA Tony Lip. It is directed by Peter Farelly, and stars Viggo Mortensen as Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as Shirley.
Sony’s critically acclaimed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, which brought much-needed diversity to the Spider-Man universe, was named best animated feature, putting an end to Disney’s six-year hold on the category. “To our audience, we just want you to know that we see you,” said co-director Peter Ramsey. Elsewhere, Disney did win best animated short for Bao.
Nominated for eight Oscars, A Star Is Born had to make do with only one win, for best original song. While accepting the award for Shallow, a tearful Lady Gaga said: “I’ve worked hard for a long time and it’s not about winning. What it’s about is not giving up. If you have a dream, fight for it.” The song was performed onstage by Gaga and Bradley Cooper earlier in the night, and received a standing ovation.
The 91st ceremony had been plagued with indecision and problems, from Kevin Hart’s history of homophobia leading to him stepping down as host, to the decision not to include an award for popular film, to the reversal of the announcement that four awards would take place in commercial breaks. The Academy had also stated that the ceremony would come in at a tidy three hours, yet it ran to almost three and a half.