clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The 2019 Oscars broke boundaries, especially for women of color

Black Panther and Roma pushed the 2019 Oscars into reaching new milestones.

91st Annual Academy Awards - Press Room
Ruth E. Carter shows off her Oscar for Best Costume Design. Carter is the second black woman ever to win a non-acting Oscar.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Over the past few years, the #OscarsSoWhite and Time’s Up movements have been pushing unceasingly for more diversity in Hollywood, both in front of the screen and behind the scenes. And while the Oscars are still overwhelmingly white and male, that work has started to pay off, with the Academy adding multiple women and people of color to its voting body in 2017. That was evident at the 2019 Oscars: Multiple Oscars milestones were reached, with people of color and women taking home awards that have never been claimed by anyone from their identity group before.

They’re milestones worth celebrating — but it’s also worth noting how absurdly long it’s taken to get even this far.

Black Panther led the charge in multiple categories

Black Panther’s black-focused, women-led production team set multiple milestones. As Alyssa Klein noted on Twitter, Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler — winners for best costume and best production design, respectively — became the second and third black women ever to win a non-acting Oscar, and the first to win in more than 30 years. (Their predecessor, Irene Cara, won in 1984 for writing the “Flashdance” song.)

And together with Regina King, who won Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk, the three wins represented the first time that more than one black woman has won an Oscar in the same year. Beachler was also the first black woman to even be nominated for production design, so her win was a triple milestone.

Roma followed close behind with plenty of Oscars love

Roma is the first Mexican film to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It also met another milestone when it won Best Cinematography. Alfonso Cuarón already had an Oscar — he won Best Director in 2014 for Gravity — but his Best Cinematography win for Roma set a new record. Cuarón is the first person to win the cinematography award for a movie he also directed. (And he won Best Director for Roma as well.)

Mahershala Ali became the first black actor to repeat a win in the same category

Mahershala Ali won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year for his performance in Green Book, two years after he won in the same category for Moonlight in 2017, making him the only black actor to pull off a repeat. (Denzel Washington has two Oscars, but they’re in different categories: Leading Actor for 2001’s Training Day and Supporting Actor for 1989’s Glory.)

Bao director Domee Shi became the first woman of color to win the Oscar for Best Animated Short

Domee Shi, who directed Pixar’s Bao, accepted the award with producer Becky Neiman-Cobb. Shi is also the first woman to have directed a short film for Pixar.

Spike Lee won his first competitive Oscar

Spike Lee is one of the most celebrated auteurs of Hollywood, but the Academy has been slow to recognize him. Before 2019, he had two nominations (Best Original Screenplay for 1990’s Do the Right Thing and Best Documentary Feature for 1998’s 4 Little Girls), and he won an honorary award in 2015 to recognize his body of work.

But the Academy is beginning to get on the Spike Lee train. This year, he’s received multiple nominations for BlacKkKlansman, for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. And Lee officially won for Best Adapted Screenplay — meaning that he has finally won an Oscar in a competitive category.

For the first time, three of the four acting categories went to actors of color

Of this year’s four acting awards, three went to performers of color: Regina King won Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk, Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for Green Book, and Rami Malek won Best Leading Actor for Bohemian Rhapsody. That means the 2019 Oscars mark the first time that the majority of the acting awards have gone to nonwhite actors.

Rami Malek became the first Arab American to win the Oscar for Best Actor

Malek, who is of Egyptian descent, won Best Leading Actor for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.