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“This is like a dream,” said producer Jim Burke while accepting the trophy with the Green Book cast and team, including fellow producers Charles B. Wessler, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga. “We made this film with love and we made it with tenderness and we made it with respect.”
Director Farrelly added, “This whole story is about love. It’s about loving each other despite our differences and finding the truth about who we are: We’re the same people.”
The director then thanked the film’s stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, who earlier in the night won his second best supporting actor award. He becomes the first black actor to win two best supporting actor Oscars and the second black actor to win more than one Oscar for acting.
Wessler then dedicated the win to the late Carrie Fisher before presenter Julia Roberts signed off on behalf of the Academy and its hostless show.
The win marks a somewhat surprising development for what was anticipated to be an unpredictable Oscar year. The 2019 best picture category was considered one of the toughest to predict going into Sunday night. For one, both presumptive frontrunners Roma and Green Book have proven to be divisive among Academy members — the former because of film studio rival Netflix, the latter because of awards season missteps.
The best picture race also included box office hits favored by viewers — Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born — and the Hollywood guilds, which usually settle on a consensus by Oscar night, had not done so during the 2019 Oscars season. The Directors Guild feted Roma, the Producers Guild picked Green Book and the Screen Actors Guild awarded its top honor to the cast of Black Panther.
Farrelly’s Green Book tells the story of Tony Lip (Mortensen), a bigoted Italian-American who is hired as a driver and bodyguard by pianist Don Shirley (Ali) for a tour through the civil rights-era South.
Universal’s Green Book was an early Oscar favorite until passionate debate about the racial dramedy grew along with its awards season rise. Some of Shirley’s family members criticized the film’s portrayal. Then Vallelonga, Lip’s son and the film’s screenwriter, had to apologize for a resurfaced anti-Muslim tweet. Farrelly, who did not earn a best director nom, also had to apologize for exposing himself in the past.
Green Book earned five nominations, including a best actor nom for Mortensen. Brian Hayes Currie, Vallelonga and Farrelly claimed the award for best original screenplay.
Backstage, Burke addressed the awards season criticism. “It was discouraging, but we always went back to the film,” he said of the backlash. “When we had a bad day, we’d pop in the movie and we’d be reminded that we’re all really proud of this film.”
Vallelonga, meanwhile, addressed the controversy with Shirley’s family and told reporters he didn’t thank Shirley onstage because, “You get nervous up there. Mahershala thanked Don. If you’re discussing the Don Shirley family thing, that falls on me. Don Shirley himself told me to not talk to anyone. … He was an amazing man. He told me, ‘If you’re going to tell the story, you tell it from your father and me.’ And also he told me, ‘Don’t tell it until I pass away.'” He added of the musician’s family, “We invited them to all the screenings and to discussions. I was personally not allowed to speak to his family, per Don Shirley’s wishes. … Don Shirley and my father had an amazing story together.”
Of the film’s message, Farrelly said, “Talk to each other. You’ll find out we have a lot in common. The only way to solve problems is to talk.”
When Spike Lee got his turn backstage, he was asked about his real-time reaction to the Green Book win. The BlacKkKlansman director, also a best picture nominee, was visibly angry when the best picture winner was announced, and nearly walked out of the Dolby Theatre.
“This is my sixth glass — and you know why,” he told the press room while drinking champagne. “I thought I was courtside at the Garden and the ref made a bad call.” When pushed about Green Book‘s win, Lee added, “I’m snake-bit. Every time someone’s driving somebody I lose.” The comment was a reference to Driving Miss Daisy, the 1990 best picture winner that was released the same year as his classic film Do the Right Thing. Lee did pick up his first competitive Oscar win for best adapted screenplay on Sunday.
A win for Roma, meanwhile, would have nabbed Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white autobiographical drama a number of firsts, including the first non-English film to win best picture. Roma had several strikes against it going into the Oscars. Many Academy members resented that the film came from rival streaming giant Netflix.
Roma did earn Netflix its first-ever noms for best director, actress in a leading role — for first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio — original screenplay, foreign-language film, production design, sound editing and sound mixing. Of those categories, Roma won best director for Cuaron and best foreign-language film, a first for Mexico, on Sunday. Cuaron also won best cinematography.
In taking home the best picture trophy, Green Book also beat out fellow nominees Roma, the timely BlacKkKlansman, fan-favorite A Star Is Born, groundbreaking Black Panther, global box office hit Bohemian Rhapsody, female-fronted The Favourite and the politically charged Vice.
Roma and The Favourite were tied with a total of 10 nominations going into Sunday. Roma also tied the record for most noms received by a foreign-language film. Netflix nabbed 15 nods in all.
Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody walked away with the most wins of the night with four.
The 91st Academy Awards were broadcast live Sunday on ABC from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. For the first time in 30 years, the awards show did not have a host. Head here for the full list of winners.