By all accounts, the 2014 Oscars were the most diverse we’d ever seen. Yes, we watched darling newbie Lupita Nyong’o snag an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her brilliant turn in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (which also won Best Picture and an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay by John Ridley). But it was bigger than actors getting nominated and a director accepting an award.
We were there. En masse.
A very pregnant Kerry Washington took the stage to introduce a very hip-hop-happening Pharrell Williams, who performed his ubiquitous hit, “Happy.” And that was just the beginning.
Here are some of our favorite black moments at the 2014 Oscars (including some that happened off-camera!).
1. Ellen DeGeneres’s “racist” opener
Host Ellen DeGeneres said what we all were thinking early in her opening speech.
She delivered a spot-on biting joke and heads nodded when she said it, too.
“Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists. And now, please welcome our first White presenter, Anne Hathaway!”
2. Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs’s speech
You may still be wondering who Cheryl Boone Isaacs is—wonder no longer. My guess is that she has a wee bit to do with the diverse turnout we saw at the Oscars. Isaacs is the first African-American president of the Academy—she gave a quick speech Sunday night—and while she personally can’t control which films get nominated, we’re assuming she had some say in the explosion of color we saw at the award show.
3. Director Steve McQueen’s award-winning jump
Fox Searchlight—the studio which distributed 12 Years a Slave—had a clear and distinct message for Academy voters: it’s time. Their campaign was to get black Brit Steve McQueen a best directing Oscar—no Black director has won the award yet. Sunday night’s Best Picture win (which technically is for producers) was close enough, and Steve seemed all the happier for it backstage after the film’s win.
“I’m as cool as a cucumber right now,” he said with a laugh. “You saw the jump, of course, everyone’s talking about the jump… I’m just so ecstatic and so happy for us all. It’s one of those moments in life, and it might never happen again, and you’re living it and you’re there. It’s not a dream; it’s reality. Emotions, physicality just take over. You know, Van Halen, ‘Jump.’ ”
4. Screenwriter John Ridley’s humility
The screenwriter behind heady film 12 Years a Slave became the second African-American to collect a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Backstage, he talked about the accolade with reporters. “I think of my parents, who simply wouldn’t let me settle for second best, and made me take typing lessons,” he began. “My mother’s a teacher and very big into education. And I think of Solomon, and a time when to write his memoir in some parts of the country was a death sentence.
“So to be able to stand here and adapt that work, and know that there are a lot of people who made this opportunity, I’m very proud, I’m very humbled, and I’m very hopeful for the future. I may only be the second, but I know there are so many people out there of so many different kinds and stripes and faiths and orientations who have stories to tell. And I’m so thankful to the Academy and to so many people in it who rewarded this story. Not so much for me, but for people like Solomon.”
5. Pharrell’s dancers and Jamie Foxx’s “Source Awards” quip
Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx, who presented alongside Jessica Biel, gave the thumbs up to the high school dancers who performed with Pharrell backstage. “Next year, The Source Awards,” he told them.
6. Lupita Nyong’o’s Winning Moment
On the 75th anniversary of Hattie McDaniel’s historic win, newcomer Lupita Nyong’o won a Best Supporting Actress trophy. The actress, who turned 31 over Oscar weekend (she won an Indie Spirit Award on her actual birthday, Saturday), said she could barely communicate how special her awards season had been. “I’m just so happy to be holding this golden man,” she said backstage. She also talked about her run, saying, “When I’m being true to myself, I can avail myself to extraordinary things such as this. You have to allow for the impossible to be possible.”