I Went To The Oscars And Here's What I Learned

Thoughts on the 91st annual Academy Awards from a first-time attendee of the Interview Room…

-Two of my toes are numb. Getting to the Oscars at the Dolby Theater isn’t easy. Six Hollywood Blvd. blocks are closed down, as well as parts of Highland, Wilcox, and Orange. Unless you’re staying at the Loew’s Hollywood Hotel (which is attached to the Dolby Theater), you have to get dropped off as close as you can and hump it.

-The red carpet can be seen from space. It’s one thing to see the famous crimson walkway on TV, it’s quite another to stand in its vast ocean before the show. Fans lined the streets early in the morning hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars. Instead, they got me.

-The press like to dress up, too. Academy instructions are to wear formal attire which means a tux or a “dark, elegant suit.” I went with the suit, but many reporters sported bowties and there were plenty of Oscar-worthy gowns. I also wore a Black Panther pin to stay grounded.

-The press rooms are a gauntlet. Here’s how it works backstage: Once a winner is announced, he or she heads into the General Photo Room which is full of screaming photogs packed into risers. They shout at the winner to pose this way or that, kiss the Oscar, spin in a circle, etc. The winner(s) then head into the Interview Room (where I am) to take questions auction style from journalists from all over the world. The process can take up to an hour. Then the winner can head back to his or her seat. Here’s a look:

-The food is impressive. I wondered if they would feed the press animals and sure enough they do. Quite well, in fact. Chafers are set up in the hallway with tons of drinks and desserts as well. It’s like being at a strange wedding.

-The Oscar program is cool. The Super Bowl of the entertainment world does come with its own glossy program. Here’s a look:

-The press watch the Oscars on TV, just like you. TVs hang from trusses that frame the winners’ podium in the Interview Room. So watching the show isn’t much different than being at home. The fun part is seeing someone win on TV and then walk into the room you’re sitting in right afterwards. It’s surreal.

-The winners are elated, obviously. It’s great fun getting the chance to speak to an Oscar winner immediately after they win. For the most part, they’re open, happy, and excited to be there. (This stands in stark contrast to junket interviews, which many actors see as a chore.)

-Reactions were at a minimum, aside from Best Actress and Best Picture. The 91st Oscars elicited few gasps of surprise from the Interview Room… Until the end. Glenn Close seemed poised to capture her first Oscar after seven nominations, the crowd was with her, but the award went to Olivia Colman. The room exploded in a burst and the furious sounds of tweeting fingers followed. The same thing happened when Green Book was announced as Best Picture, except this time, there were groans and head-shaking. I closed my eyes and joined in, sickened. In a year when Black Panther gave the black community a billion-dollar superhero to admire and Spike Lee crafted a hard-hitting, relevant film about race in America, Oscar voters handed the biggest award of the night to a safe movie about race written by a bunch of white men, including the guy who made Stuck on You. History will not be kind.

-There’s not much boozing during the show. Spider-Verse winner Bob Persichetti and Spike Lee were the only ones to enter the interview room with champagne in hand. “This is my sixth glass. And you know why.” He told us. When Lee was asked about his reaction to Green Book’s win (the director leapt from his chair and started towards the exit before returning to his seat), he responded, “Let me take another sip.” The room exploded in laughter.

-Spike Lee was the backstage star. He won his first Oscar for writing BlackKklansman, but the win seemed overshadowed by losing out to Green Book. Both Lee and the press weren’t shy about their displeasure over the result. That added up to a lively Q and A with Lee saying “I thought I was courtside at the Garden. The ref made a bad call.” But it wasn’t all sour grapes. Lee talked about sharing his Oscar moment with Samuel L. Jackson, whose arms he leapt into onstage. The two attended Morehouse College together in the ’80s and Jackson has been a mainstay in Lee’s films since then. 

-Lady Gaga seemed exhausted. Gaga was the last winner to take the Interview Room stage, at 9:40 PM, almost seven hours after the red carpet began. She was gracious and loving, but definitely tired.

-Olivia Colman was shellshocked. After winning Best Actress, the British star took questions for a short time, but didn’t give many answers. She was clearly blindsided from the experience.

-Rami Malek was philosophical. The Best Actor of the 2018 year in film was the only winner to take the stage and thank the press. That earned him applause and brownie points, not that he needs them. Malek spent his time with us remembering how he used to read film criticism as a kid, and how he never dreamed he could play Freddie Mercury, until he discovered Mercury’s real name was Farrokh Bulsara. Malek also spoke Arabic for a spell.

-The Green Book producers didn’t have it easy, despite winning. Jim Burke, Charles B. Wessler, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga accepted Best Picture on behalf of Green Book and the press was not kind. Instead of being asked about their feelings, or fielding queries about how great the movie is, the producers were asked if they were discouraged by all the bad press surrounding the film and why they didn’t thank Don Shirley (who gave them the story) in their acceptance speech. In a night full of softballs, Green Book took it on the chin. Wessler also referred to Julia Roberts as “the actress who gave us the award.” Ouch.

-Everyone was represented. The Oscars didn’t get Best Picture right, but they nailed every other category. The Interview Room was excited to talk to the first black Costume Design and Production Design winners, Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachle (Black Panther), respectively. Mexico won Best Foreign Language Film for the first time ever (Roma), not to mention Best Director and Best Cinematography for Alfonso Cuarón. And the LGBTQ community saw portrayals of two queer icons from the world of music (Freddie Mercury and Don Shirley) win the male actor awards, and a portrayal of a lesbian queen (The Favourite) win Best Actress. I sat next to a writer from GLAAD, who seemed to be tweet storming furiously. Three years after #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy is heading in the right direction, even if voters still fall for movies like Green Book.

-No complaints. The backstage area is quite an experience at the Oscars. The Academy does a stellar job keeping everything organized and professional. It runs the way you’d expect, and I’d like to thank the entire staff for their hard work. Now, it’s time to rest my aching feet. 

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