The controversies leading up to this year’s Oscar night were so many that they’re likely already blurred in viewers’ minds. And in spite of the Academy’s messy scramble to keep audiences engaged, Sunday night’s broadcast was for the most part lively and entertaining, with highlights that ranged from heartfelt gratitude to hilarity to pure joy. Here are eight of the most striking moments from the 91st Academy Awards.
Melissa McCarthy, Brian Tyree Henry, and the Bunny on McCarthy’s Hand
Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry earned waves of laughter and cheers when they took the stage in elaborate 18th-century gowns—McCarthy’s decorated with numerous rabbits—to present the award for Best Costume Design. Their deadpan delivery of praise for the nuances of the category was punctuated by gestures from the bunny puppet on McCarthy’s hand (she later had the rabbit open the envelope). “Costume designers construct the looks that ground a character to a particular time and place in the subtlest, subtlest of ways,” McCarthy intoned as the bunny’s ears wiggled. “So true,” Henry replied from behind his face paint. “So true.”
Ryan Coogler’s critically acclaimed superhero film made history when Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler received the awards for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design, respectively—the first nominations and wins for a black person in either category, and recognition that, as Carter acknowledged, had been “a long time coming.” In confident and powerful speeches, both women spoke to the difference that support had made in their careers. Carter thanked Spike Lee for her start, and Beachler thanked the people, including Coogler, who had given her not only strength, but also “agency and self-worth.” Now, she added, “I give this strength to all of those who come next.”
“I Can’t Believe a Film About Menstruation Just Won an Oscar!”
The director Rayka Zehtabchi was laughing and crying as she accepted the award for Period. End of Sentence., alongside Melissa Berton, one of the film’s producers. The documentary short follows a group of women in the village of Kathikhera, India, who build a business, gain independence, and confront taboos about menstruation with the help of a sanitary-pad machine. Zehtabchi and Berton both ended their speeches with calls to action to empower women and combat stigma surrounding periods. As Zehtabchi noted, that a film on this subject received an Academy Award means they’ve taken a major step toward that goal.
This Song Needs No Introduction
Most of the musical performances of the night featured flashy accoutrements, from the eerily glowing frontier set behind “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” to Keegan-Michael Key descending from the ceiling with an umbrella to introduce “The Place Where Lost Things Go.” Not so with “Shallow,” the anthemic duet from A Star Is Born, for which Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper simply got up from their seats in the audience and made their way to the stage. Their performance, understated and at times almost uncomfortably intimate, got such an ovation from the audience that it was no surprise, later on in the night, when Gaga and her co-writers took home the Oscar for Best Original Song. Her acceptance speech addressed the hard work behind the glamour of performance and recognized her co-star: “Bradley, there is not a single person on the planet that could have sang this song with me but you.”
Spike Lee’s Long-Awaited Honor
Shout-outs throughout the night, including from Carter and Samuel L. Jackson, attested to Spike Lee’s place as a fixture in Hollywood. And so, when Jackson opened the envelope and announced the winner for Best Adapted Screenplay with a resounding “Spiiiiike Leeeeee!,” the entire audience seemed to share his enthusiasm with a standing ovation. (Lee, for his part, leaped into Jackson’s arms.) Lee has been nominated for an Oscar five times over the past 30 years, but the award for BlacKkKlansman is his first win. In accepting, Lee made the most overtly political speech of the night, with a reference to the upcoming presidential election. “Let’s all be on the right side of history!” he urged. And members of the audience jumped up and cheered when he closed with a reference to his 1989 classic: “Let’s do the right thing!”
Olivia Colman’s Upset Win
Glenn Close was the favorite to win the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, but the Oscar went instead to the star of The Favourite: Olivia Colman, whose strikingly physical portrayal of Queen Anne combined cruelty and vulnerability. Colman herself appeared shocked onstage, giving an endearingly breathless speech that included a compliment to Close (“You’ve been my idol for so long, and this is not how I wanted it to be!”), an air kiss for Lady Gaga, and a raspberry blown to the cameras as she was instructed to wrap up. It was one of the most joyful, spontaneous moments of the night, summed up in Colman’s tribute to the romance of the Oscars: “Any little girl who’s practicing their speech on the telly—you never know!”
Alfonso Cuarón’s Tribute to Domestic Workers
Roma, which critics widely recognized as a masterpiece, was a deeply personal project for Alfonso Cuarón, an ode to his childhood in Mexico City and to Libo Rodriguez, the nanny who raised him. Yet the film also carried a broader social significance. As he accepted the award for Best Director—his second Oscar of the night, after Best Cinematography—Cuarón acknowledged the millions of domestic workers around the world who lack labor rights, and thanked the Academy for recognizing a character, an indigenous woman, who’s rarely been in the spotlight. “As artists, our job is to look where others don’t,” he added. “This responsibility becomes much more important at times when we are being encouraged to look away.”
That’s All, Folks
As the applause died down after Green Book’s Best Picture win, energy in the auditorium was notably flat. Julia Roberts, who had presented the award, captured the mood with a shrugging sign-off that—like the ceremony itself—checked all the boxes required by Hollywood ritual, but contained a few non sequiturs. “Well, apparently that wraps up the 91st Academy Awards,” she announced. “I would like to say congratulations to all the nominees, and good night to Bradley Cooper’s mother and my children. And thank you for watching!”