Spike Lee, Regina King and Mahershala Ali led the Academy Awards on Sunday.
For the first time in Oscars history, seven black men and women won Academy Awards for categories in front of and behind the camera.
Regina King, Mahershala Ali, Ruth E. Carter, Hannah Beachler, Peter Ramsey, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee were the black artists recognized during Sunday night's ceremony, besting a previous Oscar record set in 2017. That was the year five black winners took home awards, including Ali (for Best Supporting Actor, Moonlight), Viola Davis (for Best Supporting Actress, Fences), Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney (for Best Adapted Screenplay, Moonlight) and Ezra Edelman (for Best Documentary Feature, O.J.: Made in America).
Signs that Sunday would be a good night for diversity started early, when King took home the Oscars' first award for Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk. This marked King's first Oscar win. "You surrounded her with so much love and support," King tearfully said onstage during her acceptance speech. "So, it's appropriate for me to be standing here, 'cause I'm an example of what it looks like when support and love is poured into someone."
Carter was next to celebrate her historic win, taking home Best Costume Design for Black Panther after previously being honored with a lifetime achievement award at the CDGA. Carter's win after three tries is significant in that she became the first black woman ever to win the Academy Award in her category.
"This has been a long time coming," Carter said onstage, while basking in her deserved Oscar moment. She had been nominated twice before in the category, in 1998 for Amistad and in 1993 for Malcolm X. Carter also credited Lee for her first Oscar nomination for her work on Malcolm X. While she did not win at the time, she made history as the first black woman nominated in the category.
"[Being the first black person to win this award] means that we’ve opened up the door. Finally the door is wide open," Carter said backstage following her historic Oscar moment. "I’ve been struggling, digging deep, mentoring, whatever I could to raise others up… this means there is hope and other people can come on in and win an Oscar just like I did."
Moments later, Carter's colleague Beachler followed with a win for Best Production Design, again for Black Panther, ending a 30-year deficit for any African-American woman to win a non-acting category. Like Carter, Beachler is the first black winner in her category.
"I did my best, and my best was good enough!" Beachler said, unable to hide her emotions onstage during her acceptance speech. "I stand here stronger than I was yesterday." This was Beachler's first Oscar nomination, shared with set decorator Jay Hart.
Beachler tearfully recalled the advice she received from Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, backstage following her historic win. "The advice that changed everything for me was when I arrived in Oakland all those years ago with Ryan," she said, getting teary-eyed. "He said, 'You know what, be honest and be truthful and be you. If you’re not yourself, this is not going to work.'" She also shared the wisdom she'd tell her younger self: "You are doing the right thing. Fear not, because tomorrow is yours."
Ali collected his second Oscar in three years, this time for playing famed pianist Don Shirley in the controversial Green Book. (He won his first in 2017 for Moonlight.)
"I want to dedicate this to my grandmother," Ali said during his speech, whose Oscar outfit was inspired by Shirley. "Who has been in my ear my entire life telling me that if at first I don't succeed, try and try again, that I could do anything that I put my mind do, always, always pushing me to think positively. I know that I would not be here without her, that she has gotten me over the hump every step of the way."
Later in the evening, Ramsey, who co-directed Sony's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, took home Best Animated Feature -- a win he shared with Rodney Rothman, Bob Persichetti, Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
Lee, who was up for three awards for BlacKkKlansman, won Best Adapted Screenplay alongside Willmott. (The two men share the award with Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz.) The win was significant for Lee, who hasn't been Oscar nominated since 1998 and was previously nominated for in the same category in 1990 for Do the Right Thing. (Ironically, Do the Right Thing failed to get a Best Picture nomination while Driving Miss Daisy won the category.)
While Octavia Spencer was the sole black producer on Green Book, and received a shout-out from director Peter Farrelly during the Best Picture acceptance speech, she did not share in the Oscar win for Best Picture based on eligibility rules. The win, instead, went to Jim Burke, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie and Farrelly.)