By Garry Maddox– Daily Life
There is nothing new about drama at the climax of the Academy Awards.
Ordinary People once beat Raging Bull for best picture. Crash beat Brokeback Mountain. And Moonlight – eventually – beat La La Land.
But now, at an Oscars that was all about inclusion and diversity, Hollywood surprisingly rejected a groundbreaking Mexican film in favour of an American crowdpleaser for its top prize.
True, Roma won best director, cinematography and foreign language film. As a masterful cinematic achievement – beautifully shot, acted and directed with a story that tears out your heart – it deserved them all.
But it also deserved to win best picture.
After all the controversies in the lead-up, so much worked at the 91st Academy Awards. There were a record 14 awards for women; a record seven individual black winners.
Instead of a single host, after Kevin Hart stood aside after an outcry over past homophobic statements, there was a parade of presenters – and they couldn’t have been more diverse, including such non-film identities as Serena Williams, Spanish-born chef José Andrés and the casts of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians.
There was even a livewire blast of Queen to open the awards, followed by an entertaining comic cameo from Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph.
And there was no need for a “most popular film” Oscar when hit movies were winning awards. Bohemian Rhapsody claimed four including best actor for Rami Malek; Black Panther won three; and A Star Is Born one.
There were also memorable lines:
“I can’t believe a film about menstruation has won an Oscar,” from director Rayka Zehtabchi when Period. End
of Sentence. triumphed for best documentary short.
“There are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity and talent,” from Javier Bardem in Spanish, with subtitles.
“Any little girl who’s perhaps practising their speech on the telly, you never know,” from Olivia Colman when she surprisingly won best actress for The Favourite.
But not a single foreign-language film had won best picture in Oscars history – a sign of American myopia – and Academy members allowed their resentment of Netflix to stop them doing it this time, seeming to see a vote for Roma as a vote for a disruptive streaming service.
The voting systems – preferential ballot for best picture, popular vote for best director – did not help either.
But it was telling that an anonymous director told The Hollywood Reporter that he would not vote for Roma saying: “When we gave our award to The Hurt Locker or Moonlight, we were getting people to go to theatres to see them; Roma is this brilliant work, visually speaking, on a big screen but it becomes greatly diminished when you watch it on television.”
Compared to the other two of three racially-charged films up for best picture, Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman, the politics of Green Book felt dated – more of a white perspective on a black story.
Academy members could have awarded best picture to the best picture, Roma, but they fumbled the chance.
Garry Maddox is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.