Oscars Aimed for Inclusiveness, Host or No Host

The Academy Awards delivered upsets, a few laughs and awards for first-time nominees and industry veterans

It had been three decades since the Oscars went live without a designated host to front the annual celebration of entertainment. This year’s telecast bounced lightly, for the most part, from presenter to presenter and went all-out for inclusivity in an attempt to refocus attention on the awards and not the gaffes beleaguering the ceremony over recent months. 

Sunday night’s ceremony, the 91st, was left without a public face after Kevin Hart stepped away from the gig over backlash to homophobic tweets from almost 10 years ago for which he eventually apologized. No other host was named, or seemingly could be tempted to the job.

Viewers tuning into the telecast from the official start time could easily have been forgiven for thinking they had instead caught the Grammy Awards. The opening medley of hits from best picture nominee “Bohemian Rhapsody” was performed by the surviving members of Queen and Adam Lambert and delivered a rousing start, but more importantly indicated where telecast producers were directing the show: to emphasize the fun, flashy aspects while incorporating names and faces from the wider entertainment industry instead of sticking with an expected lineup of Hollywood’s acting elite.

The lack of traditional, opening comic monologue was quickly forgotten thanks to the high-energy curtain-raiser and early remarks from group presenters Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, with the latter quipping they were not the hosts, but would stand there “a little too long so that the people who get USA Today tomorrow will think we hosted.” Added Rudolph: “There is no host tonight, there won’t be a popular movie category and Mexico is not paying for the wall.”

Viewers randomly tuning in as the evening progressed through its relatively-short-for-the-Oscars running time of just over three hours could still have mistaken the telecast for the Grammys, or the CMAs, or even the ESPYS. Further presenters included music notables Kacey Musgraves, Tom Morrello and Pharrell Williams. Other seemingly random, yet welcome additions to presenting duty included Serena Williams and Trevor Noah.

It all added up to an evening of unexpected moments with an air of uncertainty apparent from the red-carpet thanks to inspired sartorial choices from Spike Lee, Billy Porter, Stephan James, and Pharrell Williams’ choice of a camo-print shorts suit.

On stage it came in the form of multiple awards for widely-popular features “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and statuettes for first time nominees and winners Rami Malek (best actor/“Rhapsody”), Regina King (supporting actress/“If Beale Street Could Talk”) and Olivia Colman (best actress/“The Favourite”) in an upset win over Glenn Close. Best picture went to “Green Book.”

Genuine laugh-inducing moments were sadly scarce. Nominee Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry donned outlandish garb, festooned with plush bunnies and a hand puppet in the case of McCarthy, to deliver the award for best costume design. It was a sight gag played with poker faces that allowed for needed laughs but ultimately underscored the importance of the category which was won by Ruth E. Carter for “Black Panther.”

The first African-American to ever win the category, Carter is a 30-year veteran of the industry and in accepting the award said it “means that we’ve opened the door. Finally, the door is wide open.”

Ratings and platform engagement will ultimately decree if the 91st Oscar ceremony was a hit or miss, but two things were apparent by show’s end: the lack of host mattered not; and while it may not be wide open, Sunday’s telecast indicated the Academy has at last begun to crack the door on inclusiveness and usher in a more global variety of entertainment.

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