Green Book took home Best Picture at the 2019 Academy Awards, bringing an end to an unusually fraught awards season. Besides the brouhaha over the ceremony (which turned out fine, despite it all), the Oscar race was particularly heated; jockeying for the big prize of the night led to the kinds of shifts in the field that made it near impossible to predict the outcome. Green Book was a frontrunner, but in the seconds before it took home the prize, it was still anyone’s statue to win.
What happened this season? Following its premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival, Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born surfed a wave of critical acclaim that seemed to ensure a sweep come Oscar time. The tide turned when it came to the actual voting. Cooper was snubbed in the Best Director category, and Lady Gaga’s momentum in the Best Actress category was overtaken by Glenn Close’s turn in The Wife, making it seem like the film’s lock on Best Picture was far from guaranteed. (In the end, The Favourite’s Olivia Colman swept in for Best Actress, a sign that Gaga and Close support put everyone all over the map.)
Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book commanded more popular attention (with the former in particular picking up several wins throughout the night), though arguably for the wrong reasons. Both were crowd pleasers that received mixed reviews, and were increasingly dogged by controversy as awards season progressed.
The Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was accused of coming off as homophobic, and Bryan Singer, who was fired from the movie and replaced on reshoots by the Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher, was the subject of an exposé in The Atlantic. The piece contained allegations from several men who said that Singer had abused them when they were underage, and pointed to a pattern of similar behavior. Singer called the article a “smear piece;” a week later, the film’s lead, star Rami Malek, said that he had not been aware of the accusations against Singer, and offered his support to anyone who would speak out about sexual abuse.
Past misconduct cast a shadow over Green Book, too. The Cut resurfaced reports of how director Peter Farrelly would prank his casts by flashing his genitals, and soon after, anti-Muslim tweets by screenwriter Nick Vallelonga bubbled up to the surface. Further controversy grew from protests by the remaining family of Don Shirley (portrayed by Mahershala Ali — who won Best Supporting Actor — in the film), who referred to the film, touted as a true story, as a “symphony of lies.” Ali personally apologized to the family, though a rep for the actor clarified to the Huffington Post that the apology was not “for the film” itself. Further criticism of the film addressed its shaky approach to both race and homosexuality, though none of the above seemed to affect the film’s Oscar chances.
Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma also made waves, representing Netflix’s biggest foray into the Hollywood award arena, and gained momentum with wins at other industry awards ceremonies (the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, etc.) leading up to Oscars night. The only thing that seemed to hinder its chances of winning Best Picture was its double nomination as Best Foreign Language Feature, as no foreign language feature has taken home Best Picture as of yet, and indeed, Roma won Best Foreign Picture but failed to lock in the biggest prize of the night.
And coming in as the category upset was, of course, Black Panther, the cause of the “popular film” category hullabaloo and the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture. That its nomination was history-making was only underlined by the fact that it still remained in awards conversation almost a full year after its release.
Still, despite all the controversy, Green Book won Best Picture, ending a tame Oscars night with a disappointing bang. Set in 1962, the film tells the story of a white driver and a black musician becoming friends on a road trip in a time when The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide to which establishments would host black guests, steered life in the south. The movie only digs into issues of race (as well as sexuality) in a soft, heartstring-tugging way, but that was enough to cinch the film’s prospects, as it took home the biggest prize of the night. Though the Best Picture race was an unusually chaotic one this year, Green Book was the formula-fitting pick.