Diversity wins supreme at 86th Academy Awards

Texas native Matthew McConaughey, Lupita Nyong'o and Jared Leto are all not only first-time winners, but first-time nominees as well.

Oscar statue (photo credit: REUTERS)
Oscar statue
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At the tail end of last night's Academy Awards, a regal Angelina Jolie escorted a weary, but dignified Sidney Poitier to the stage to present the award for Best Director. The crowd eagerly leapt to its feet to honor the now legendary actor, as Jolie looked on in awe of the man standing beside her.
The crowd's sincere appreciation of Poitier and his contribution to the industry was the defining moment of the night, especially given the notable wins by people of color. 12 Years a Slave took best picture, the first time in the Academy's 86-year history where that award was given to the work of a black director.
"Everyone deserves not just to survive, but live," 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen said upon accepting the biggest award of the night.
The film also took home Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay - two more notable gains for Hollywood's African American community last night.
Gravity, which won seven awards, also made a notable splash in the diversity pool when Mexican-born Alfonso Cuarón snagged Best Director for his excellently executed drama.
Such a night, from Pharell shimmying joyfully across the stage during his performance of "Happy" from Despicable Me 2 to legendary backup singer Darlene Love belting out "His Eye is on the Sparrow" when 20 Feet From Stardom won Best Documentary Feature gives hope that maybe the Academy isn't such an old stuffy white boys club anymore.
With the exception of Cate Blanchett's Best Actress win for Blue Jasmine, the Academy also bestowed its acting honors on new blood.
Texas native Matthew McConaughey, Lupita Nyong'o and Jared Leto are all not only first-time winners, but first-time nominees as well.
Leto, though, can certainly teach other actors how to deliver a heartfelt, interesting and emotionally charged acceptance speech. In his three-minute speech, he managed to dedicate the award to his family, revolutions currently rocking the Ukraine and Venezuela and AIDS victims.
"There was a teenage girl who...was a high school drop out and a single mom but somehow she managed to make a better life for herself and for her children. She managed to be creative, to work hard, and to do something special," he said, choking back tears. "That girl is my mother and she's here tonight." Despite the heavy subject matters behind the nominated films, there were some whacky and irreverent movements as well.
During a lull in the middle of ceremony, host Ellen Degeneres set out to break the record for retweeting a "selfie" on twitter.
Eagerly gathering the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Spacey, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep into one condensed mega-celebrity cluster she managed to pull it off: at the time of this writing, that selfie succeeded in briefly crashing twitter late Sunday night and bypassed over 2.4 million tweets.
That's not to say the night went off without a hitch. Many of Degeneres' bits fell flat. Specifically, her bit about delivering pizza to hungry celebrities seemed to go nowhere and left many awkwardly smiling while trying to figure out if they should take a slice of pizza or not (Jennifer Lawrence, for the record, did grab a slice because she clearly doesn't care what people think about her).
There were also some inexplicably awkward moments. The most notable of which was John Travolta introducing Broadway star Idina Menzel.
Apparently, in Mr. Travolta's world Idina sounds like "Adele" and Menzel sounds like "Dazeem. " It was bad enough when Travolta pronounced Les Miserables last year as "Miserablus." Maybe Oscar producers should take a hint and skip over Travolta the next time they need a Hollywood heavy hitter to introduce an Oscar? But awkward moments, hiccups, snafus are the name of the game in live television. Especially live television that lasts four hours like last night's telecast did.
All a helpless viewer can hope for is deserving and gracious winners, entertaining performances and some chuckles along the way. On that score, the 86th Academy Awards delivered.