BY YESHA CALLAHAN
Mahershala Ali literally set the tone for the evening as he walked onstage to accept the first award of the night. Ali, who won for best supporting actor in “Moonlight,’’ made history as he became the first Muslim actor to ever win an Academy Award.
“I want to thank my teachers, my professors,” Ali said. “One thing they consistently told me … was that it wasn’t about you. It’s not about you, it’s about these characters, you are a servant. You’re in service to these stories and these characters.”
‘O.J.’ film wins
Another winner of the evening was producer and director Ezra Edelman for “O.J.: Made in America,’’ and there was some heavy competition in the best documentary feature category that included Ava Duvernay’s “13th,’’ Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro,” the film “Life, Animated’’ by Roger Ross Williams, and Gianfranco Rosi’s “Fire at Sea.’’
In his speech, Edelman remembered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, but he also got political.
“It is also for others, the victims of police violence, police brutality, racially motivated violence and criminal injustice,” he said. “This is their story, as well as Ron and Nicole’s.”
Historic Davis win
Viola Davis probably gave the best speech of the night as she accepted her award for best supporting actress for her role in “Fences.’’ Even before her name was announced as the winner, Oprah Winfrey put that good juju out there on Twitter.
Davis became the first Black woman to win an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony for acting. (Whoopi Goldberg is an EGOT; she also has a Tony, but it is for producing. Goldberg also has a Grammy.) Davis’ speech reflected the historic win.
“You know, there is one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard,” a teary-eyed Davis began. “People ask me all the time— ‘What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’ And I say exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories—the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.”
Kudos for Denzel
“I became an artist and thank God I did,” she continued, “because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
In her speech, she also thanked Denzel Washington.
“Oh captain, my captain,” she told Washington, “thank you for putting two entities in the driving seat: (playwright) August (Wilson) and God. And they served you well.”
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney of “Moonlight” took home the award for best adapted screenplay and their acceptance speech was a call for marginalized voices to be heard.
“I told my students, be in love with the process, not the result. I really wanted this result. All you people who feel like there’s no mirror for you, the academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back, and for the next four years, we will not forget you.,’’ Jenkins stated.
And, of course, the biggest moment of the night came when “Moonlight’’ took home the best picture award, but, of course, not without the drama and a little more pomp and circumstance.