Almost 30 million people watched the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday night. According to Variety, that was 12 percent more than the 26.5 million who watched the Oscars in 2018. While Sunday’s audience was up from 2018’s historic low, the audience was still the second smallest ever for an Academy Awards broadcast.
Both the CIA and President Donald Trump were watching though, or at least tweeting about them.
The CIA, which began tweeting in February 2014 and now has 2.54 million followers, continued its popular “Reel vs. Real” campaign to educate readers about the agency and help distinguish its fictional portrayal on film from reality.
Its social media team congratulated all the Oscar nominees and then tweeted about “vibranium” – the fictitious substance in Marvel’s "Black Panther," which won three Oscars – noting that neither the magical stuff nor the film’s Wakanda (its African setting) are real. It also tweeted a link to a wonky, engaging article by an agency scientist about substances that resemble vibranium (tungsten carbide).
While the CIA tweeters seemed to relish the show and its over-the-top pageantry, President Trump did not.
In a lone tweet at 6:50 a.m. on Monday, Trump blasted director Spike Lee for his back-handed critique of the president and his policies. While accepting an Oscar for best-adapted screenplay for his film "BlacKkKlansman,” Lee urged Americans to make a “moral choice” in the 2020 presidential race.
“When we regain our humanity, it will be a powerful moment,” he said, stumbling slightly as he read his note cards. “The 2020 election is around the corner – let’s all mobilize and be on the right side of history,” he continued. “Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Do the right thing.”
Less than 12 hours later, President Trump fired back. “Be nice if Spike Lee could read his notes,” he tweeted. “Or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your President, who has done more for African Americans (Criminal Justice Reform, Lowest Unemployment numbers in History, Tax Cuts, etc.) than almost any other Pres!”
Mr. Trump may have had another reason to detest the Oscars. Spike Lee did not mention him by name. Nor did any of the other presenters, nominees or award winners. Although several people took indirect aim at him and his policies, virtually everyone on camera avoided mentioning the name of the man who relishes being at the center of public attention 24/7.
The Oscars have long been an annual celebration of the liberal “Hollywood values” that conservatives despise. But last night’s presenters did not bash them or the politics of hate and bigotry; they stressed the need for love, societal tolerance, diversity and inclusion. The night’s show-stopper was not a political diatribe, but Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s stunning rendition of their Academy-award winning song “Shallow” from “A Star is Born.”
Sunday night’s Oscars were a departure in other respects as well. In addition to studiously avoiding “He Who Must Not Be Named,” the show’s producers seemed determined to counter past years’ “#OscarsSoWhite” criticisms of the Academy. There were more African-Americans, Latinos and Asians on the stage in Los Angeles than ever before. Several presenters spoke almost entirely in Spanish.
Women, too, were seen and surely heard. After a rousing opening featuring a medley of Queen hits from “Bohemian Rhapsody” – the Freddie Mercury biopic which won four of the five awards for which it was nominated – comedians Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler opened the show with an indirect jab not only at the president but the Academy’s missteps that led to last night’s unusual lineup.
“So just a quick update… There is no host tonight,” said Rudolph, referring to the controversy over the chosen host’s tweets years ago which prompted Oscar producers to go hostless for the first time in decades. “There won’t be a popular movie category,” she added, referring to the Academy’s failed bid to add an Oscar category for films that people actually paid to see. “And Mexico is not paying for the wall.”
There were historic firsts as well. Ruth Carter became the first black woman to win a costume design award for her work on “Black Panther.” Hannah Beachler became the first black person to win for production design. Three of the four Oscars for acting went to people of color. Not only did “Roma,” a black-and-white film in Spanish about a Mexican housekeeper, win best foreign film, its director, Alfonso Cuaron, won for direction and cinematography.
The son of Egyptian immigrants, Rami Malek, who starred in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” became the first person of Arab heritage to win best actor. Peter Ramsey’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” won best animated feature film – the first time an African-American has won in the category. Domee Shi became the first woman to win an Oscar for an animated short film, Bao.
Summing up the dominant theme of this year’s Oscars, chef Jose Andres, who introduced one of the Best Picture nominees, put it best: “Immigrants and women move humanity forward.”
And they did so Sunday with impressive efficiency. The show ran only three hours and 21 minutes – yet a final reason to be grateful.