The 2019 Oscars ceremony was the Blackest, brownest, womanest, and queerest ceremony in the Academy of Motion Pictures’ near century-long history. And to think, just a few short weeks ago, we were all in the throes of a controversy involving comedian Kevin Hart, the evening’s planned celebrity host. Though many worried how the show would manage without someone in the host’s seat, it’s safe to say things went pretty well — dare I say, even better than years past?
First, Adam Lambert and Queen opened up the ceremony — and if that’s not queer reparations for the Hart debacle, I don’t know what is. Seriously: an openly gay man was singing in homage to bisexual rocker Freddie Mercury, who due to complications from AIDS. Maybe the Oscars producers could have been crafty enough to make that work in concert with Hart’s inevitable address of the elephant in the room, but I doubt it.
Then Regina King, one of the best-dressed of awards season, accepted the award for Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk, and we were really off to a powerful start. It was already an iconic moment for her as a Black woman, but then she honored the late literary icon James Baldwin for his brilliance. Shortly thereafter, Mahershala Ali also saluted a queer pioneer, Dr. Donald Shirley, who he portrayed in his supporting role for Green Book. Could you imagine jumping from either one of those important moments in Black queer history to Hart’s tinny voice feigning a shared respect? Me either.
Awards aside, there was a better flow and rhythm to the presentation than heard in years past, without the clunkiness of a host interjecting with forced monologues, awkward jokes, or contrived musical numbers. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph’s shared monologue kicked off the first few hearty laughs of the night, hitting on politics, representation, and feminism all in one. Together, they possibly gave us the best comedic material showcased on that stage in the last decade.
The non-comedic actors held their own, as well. Between Emilia Clarke’s quip about her Game of Thrones character, Khaleesi, loaning her dragons to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Olivia Colman’s unprepared, off-the-cuff, candid acceptance speech for Best Actress for her role in The Favourite, speech after speech was actually enjoyable to behold — much more so than a series of height jokes about a certain comedian who was absent from the stage.
For so long, the Oscars has been a notorious snooze-filled drag (and I don’t mean the glam variety presented to us tonight by Shangela, who stole the evening’s red carpet with the Jenifer Lewis, the mother of Black Hollywood). With the typical hosting situation, we could have expected unsettling silences, painful laughs, and noncommital smiles. This go ‘round, the moments seemed succinct and felt more organic than ever — especially when Tessa Thompson and Michael B. Jordan steamed up our screens (and spoke to our throbbing queer hearts) with their dreamy looks toward each other.
Look, if Hart had hosted, the show may have still been iconic. I would have been hella entertained if, after her show-stopping performance, Lady Gaga jumped up from that piano, belted out an impromptu run from “Born This Way,” and punted Hart off the stage. (Too harsh?) The only thing that could have made the night better is if the rightful representation-expanding Best Picture winner, Black Panther, had received the gold. And if hosts can’t rig the voting to make that kind of justice possible, what the hell did we ever need them for in the first place?