Whimsical goofs, pleas for humanity, and calls for Hollywood to tell more diverse stories were on full display at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday night, when Parasite, 1917, and Joker each won multiple Oscars.
Bong Joon Ho’s unpredictable satirical thriller Parasite, about a poor family that ingratiates itself into a wealthy household, won Best Picture — making it the first foreign-language film to win the top honor. Bong also won awards for directing and his screenplay; the film also won in the recently renamed “Best International Film” category. Renee Zellweger won for her portrayal of Judy Garland in Judy, while Joaquin Phoenix accepted a statuette for playing the Joker, making him the second Clown Prince of Crime to do so. And 1917, Sam Mendes’ heavily favored WWI epic, won multiple awards in technical categories.
Like last year’s ceremony, there was no host. Janelle Monáe kicked things off with a performance where she went from serenading “It’s a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood” to actor Tom Hanks (who played Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) to dancing with a chorus line of 1917 soldiers and awkward-looking Jokers.
Luckily, nonhosts Steve Martin and Chris Rock were on hand to save us with a genuinely funny not-a-monologue: “Why are there no hosts?” Martin posited. “Twitter,” Rock said. “Everybody’s got an embarrassing tweet somewhere. I know I do.” They also joked about the lack of representation among the nominees (what’s missing in this year’s nominees? “Vaginas,” said Rock at 8:10 p.m. on a major network), the epic length of The Irishman (“I loved the first season,” Rock told Scorsese), and Jeff Bezos (“the only man to get divorced and still be the richest man in the world,” Rock said, to the Amazon founder’s bemusement).
With no hosts, they had presenters presenting presenters (Booksmart’s Beanie Feldstein introduced Mindy Kaling and Hamilton’s Anthony Ramos introduced Lin-Manuel Miranda) and it often felt like they were just trying to squeeze as many cameos into the show’s three-plus hours as they could. Luckily, Eminem was on hand with an orchestral string and horn section for an impromptu performance of “Lose Yourself” from a movie he made two decades ago to get the crowd excited and Martin Scorsese confused.
Beyond the fluff, many of the awards recipients used their time to talk about increasing representation and visibility for women and people of color in Hollywood. “We have a firm belief that representation matters deeply, especially in cartoons,” Karen Rupert Toliver, who produced the winning animated short, Hair Love, said. “[Cartoons are] when we first see our movies and it’s how we shape our lives and think about how we see the world.” Filmmaker Bong Joon Ho recognized the significance of the Best Original Screenplay award by saying, “We never write to represent our countries, but this is very personal to South Korea.” And Jojo Rabbit screenwriter Taika Waititi dedicated his statuette to “all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art, dance and write stories.”
Bong Joon Ho cheered on the Academy for renaming the Foreign Language Film honor to Best International Feature Film, when Parasite won. “I applaud and support the new direction that this change symbolizes,” he said. Meanwhile, Joker composer Hildur Guðnadóttir used her turn at the mic, after winning the Best Original Score trophy to encourage more women to follow in her footsteps. “To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within, please speak up,” she said. “We need to hear your voices.”
But other than these few diverse wins, the speeches did little to make up for the lack of women in the directing category or dearth of people of color in the biggest categories. Parasite was the only Best Picture nominee to focus on people of color, while Little Women was the only one to spotlight women. (In fact, it seemed as though the show’s producers went out of their way to book people of color as presenters, all who did a great job, to distract from this fact.)
Cynicism aside, there were some genuinely touching moments. When Bong Joon Ho won his third trophy of the night, for directing, he thanked each of fellow nominees and quoted Martin Scorsese. But when he said, “When I was in school, I studied Martin Scorsese’s films [and] just to be nominated was a huge honor, I never thought I would win,” The Irishman filmmaker looked visibly moved. (Ho added he wished he had a “Texas chainsaw” to split the statuette into five pieces so all of the nominees could have a piece.)
Joaquin Phoenix delivered a passionate, three-and-a-half-minute plea for humanity and empathy during his Best Actor acceptance speech for Joker. And he used it as a chance to thank Hollywood for putting up with his erratic behavior. “I have been a scoundrel in my life,” he said. “I’ve been selfish. I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. And I think that’s when we’re at our best. When we support each other, not when we cancel each other for past mistakes, but when we help each other grow when we educate each other, we guide each other toward redemption. That is the best of humanity.”
And Renee Zellweger, who won Best Actress for Judy, also highlighted the ways that people come together. “When we celebrate our heroes, we’re reminded who we are as one people, united,” she said.