The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, are one of the most prestigious ceremonies in the film industry. Since 1929, the Oscars have been an annual event featuring the faces behind Hollywood’s movie magic, from A-list actors and directors to the cast and crew who work behind the scenes. Traditionally, there’s also a host who opens with a monologue and dictates the flow of the broadcast. The host role, chosen by the event’s producers, has been filled in the past by recognizable names such as Neil Patrick Harris, Whoopi Goldberg, Hugh Jackman and Ellen DeGeneres. But the 91st Academy Awards faced a problem when it came to filling the role. Although the comedian Kevin Hart was announced as 2019’s host, he almost immediately stepped down after past homophobic comments (and subsequent public backlash) emerged.
People wondered who would replace him (the public even suggested nominating some stars for the role) before the president of ABC announced that the Oscars would go host-less. There was much speculation as to whether this would ruin the show, but after watching, most were surprised at how entertaining the show was without a host to manage it.
Gone is the awkwardness of the Anne Hathaway and James Franco duo (2011). There were no magic tricks or spectacular musical numbers by Neil Patrick Harris (2015) or jokes by Jimmy Kimmel (2018). Chris Rock (2016) wasn’t there to quip about #OscarsSoWhite. The only welcome the audience and guests got was a shouted one from Adam Lambert, who lead a Queen tribute which opened the ceremony. Lambert, who, as a runner-up on “American Idol” stood out next to the likes of Lady Gaga and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, the other performers.
The first presenters, Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, were quick to joke about the lack of hosts and the frequent faux-pas committed by the Academy. The comedians lightly poked fun at the Academy, including only small political jokes while mostly focusing on movies puns. Every presenter seemed to have more creative freedom with their bits. Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry wore over-the-top costumes to match with their presentation of Costume Design, while John Mulaney and Awkwafina went through a joint freak-out at being among Hollywood’s creme de la crop. Commentary on the political climate came from comedian Trevor Noah and a subtle Diego Luna. But overall, the presenters kept their speeches short and to the point. As always, the show went slightly over its allocated three hours. It seems that after the 74th Academy Awards, which clocked in at more than four hours, the Academy is finally finding a balance.
The running time is not the only change the Academy has made in recent years. After being called out in 2016 for their lack of representation, they’ve made significant strides to showcase inclusivity and diversity. Many of the presenters were people of color; although not nominated for any awards, some of the cast of “Crazy Rich Asians” joined the “Black Panther” crew in presenting. Three out of four winning actors nominated were people of color. Several of the other award recipients were people of color as well; Hannah Beachler, for example, made history as the first African-American women to be nominated (and win) Best Production Design for “Black Panther.” While the public acknowledged the Academy’s effort to recognize more people of color, they were not exempt from criticism: controversy arose after “Green Book” won Best Picture. The film has received significant hate after its win for allegedly perpetuating black stereotypes.
Although Kevin Hart’s absence may have come as a disappointment to some, the 91st Academy Awards did a fine job of continuing without a host. Whether it was because of the media spotlight or genuine interest, the Oscars enjoyed a significant increase in viewership this year. The focus was not monopolized by a problematic host, but instead on the award recipients. Presenters were able to put their own spin on their bits while simultaneously keeping to a unifying theme and speaking about the movie industry’s sense of community. Their speeches and the joyous, tearful reactions of the winners put a quite sentimental spin on the entire event. Despite a few mishaps, the format of this year’s ceremony and its changing face emphasize the progression of the iconic awards ceremony to a more enjoyable and streamlined experience.