This Is What We Do at Our Best

What a whirl! From utter boredom and dissociation to feel-good, homegrown American melodrama. From the truly sublime to the utterly ridiculous: From Denzel and Sidney Poitier standing, their arms outstretched reaching towards one another, each holding their historic, respective Oscars; to Julia Roberts leaping into Denzel’s big moment, blocking his shot. Halle Berry’s speech alone displayed the enormous range of emotions, in the immortal words of Dorothy Parker, from A to B. From tears to cringing embarrassment, from awe to yawn. First: “This is not for me, for Dorothy Dandridge, for Lena Horne …” Then: “We’ve waited 74 years for this, [therefore I get to again] thank my lawyer …”

The duality all night was amazing: As noted, Nora’s wonderful NY montage, among many other filmed pieces whose meanings escaped me and my friends entirely. Moments of shock: Halle Berry over Sissy. Moments of controversy: Denzel over Russell. Utterly predictable moments: Ron Howard, Akiva Goldsman, Best Picture. There seemed to be an endless series of honorary awards, sucking all the air out of the room. We should edit these considerably.

Though I never would’ve guessed the top two awards and Many Will Be Surprised, Many Will Purport Not To Be Surprised that the Oscar-race glass ceiling came crashing down on Sidney Poiter’s night. In retrospect, Halle Berry was dressed to win. I never saw anything so glamorous in my life. Sissy wouldn’t have sold any clothes.

This historic night for Afro-Americans in American film wasn’t coordinated. We had no way of knowing about the Poitier award when we voted. I sort of fear for how thought-out it seems, when it was really so random. Except that critical mass has clearly been reached, and the long arm of Sidney Poitier reached from history into the future of film tonight. My son and his friends were not nearly as moved as we grown-ups were; to them, the colorblind, this is all belaboring and celebrating the obvious. Duh. Black movie stars. Yeah, so what?

It’s kind of great to see it from both sides now. During Poitier’s speech, for a moment all my cynicism melted away. I thought, this is what we do at our best. We can actually change the way people see things. So someday our snotty little kids can tease us when our eyes tear when we hear Sidney Poitier say again, “They call me Mr. Tibbs.”

Signing off till tomorrow. A reinvigorated,