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A night of firsts: 10 ways the Oscars made history this year

This year’s Oscars broke some serious ground, and in several categories. Here’s a list of some of the evening's firsts.

From Roma to Black Panther, this year’s Oscars broke some serious ground, and in several categories

Best Foreign Language Film nominee for "Roma" Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron accepts the award for Best Foreign Language Film during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images) (Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images)

Right from the get-go, it was clear this year's Oscars were going to be unusual.

Instead of a song-and-dance opening number, Queen kicked off movie's biggest night with an Adam Lambert-led rendition of the band's 1970s megahit We Will Rock You. The show was also hostless for the first time in 30 years; instead, a parade of comedians appeared throughout the night.

But it didn't end there: in fact, this year's Oscars broke some serious ground, and made history in several categories. Here's a list of some of the "firsts" to happen at the 2019 Oscars.

First win for Spike Lee

Veteran director Spike Lee has been making films for 30 years, but astoundingly, this year marked his first-ever director nomination, for BlacKkKlansman. He didn't take home that prize, but he did win for best adapted screenplay — and you can see his incredible acceptance speech here.

First animated feature win for Marvel

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a film that offered plenty of firsts — including the first black Spider-Man — and they kept coming at the Oscars, where the film won for best animated feature, a first for Marvel.

As he accepted the award, writer Phil Lord emphasized the importance of representation. "When we hear that somebody's kid was watching the movie and turned to them and said, 'He looks like me,' or, 'they speak Spanish like us,' we feel like we already won."

First African-American woman to win for production design

Black Panther took home several awards, and in the process, made Oscar history on several fronts. One of them was for production design, where Hannah Beachler became the first African-American to be nominated in the category, and the first to win.

"I stand here stronger than I was yesterday," Beachler said. "I stand here with agency and self-worth because of [Black Panther director] Ryan Coogler – who not only made me a better designer, a better storyteller, a better person. I stand here because of this man who offered me a different perspective of life. Who offered me a safe space. Who is patient and gave me air, humanity, and brotherhood. Thank you, Ryan, I love you."

"I give this strength to all of those who come next," she added. "To keep going and never give up, and when you think it's impossible, just remember to say this piece of advice I got from a very wise woman: 'I did my best, and my best is good enough.'"

First African-American woman to win for best costume design

Ruth E. Carter, who designed the unforgettable Black Panther costumes, also broke ground at the Academy Awards when she became the first African-American woman to take home the prize.

"Wow! This has been a long time coming," said Carter, who started in 1988 on Spike Lee's School Daze, in her acceptance speech. "Spike Lee, thank you for my start. I hope this makes you proud."

"This is for my 97-year-old mother watching in Massachusetts. Mom, thank you for teaching me about people and their stories," she added. "You are the original superhero."

First Mexican film to win foreign-language film

Each year, the Academy has honoured films from around the world through its best foreign-language film category — but never a foreign language film from its neighbour, Mexico, despite eight previous nominations.

This year, Roma changed all of that. "I grew up watching foreign language movies and learning so much from them and being inspired like Citizen Kane, Jaws, Rashomon, The Godfather, Breathless," said director Alfonso Cuarón, drawing a laugh from the audience.

Cuarón also referenced a comment by French filmmaker Claude Chabrol, who was asked to comment on New Wave cinema: "He said, 'There are no waves, only oceans,'" recounted Cuarón. "The nominations tonight prove we are part of the same ocean."

First person to win both best director and best cinematography for a single film

The stunning film Roma won several awards, and in the process, Alfonso Cuarón became the first-ever winner in both the best director and best cinematography categories.

"Thank you so much," said Cuarón after accepting his second award of the evening from fellow Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro. "Being here doesn't get old."

First Indigenous woman from Mexico to be nominated for best actress

Even though she didn't get to take home a statuette, Yalitza Aparicio, who played the lead in the powerful film Roma, became the first Indigenous woman from Mexico to be nominated for best actress. What's more, the film won best director, best cinematography, and best foreign-language film.

First win for Lady Gaga

With 24 nominations and nine wins, pop superstar Lady Gaga is no stranger to Grammy Awards, but this year marked her first-ever Oscar, for best song from her hit film A Star is Born.

Her performance of Shallow with co-star Bradley Cooper was a definite highlight of the evening; when she picked up the prize, she gave an emotional speech thanking her family and encouraging people with big dreams to work hard and keep going.

First superhero movie to get a best picture nomination

Black Panther may not have taken home top honours, but the critically acclaimed film made history when it became the first superhero movie ever to be nominated for best picture.

Most nominated person never to win

It's a sad claim to fame, but an enduring one: Glenn Close continues her record-breaking streak for the most nominated person never to win — now seven times, including this year's nomination for best actress in The Wife.

About the Author

Jennifer Van Evra is a Vancouver-based journalist and digital producer for q. She can be found on Twitter @jvanevra or email jennifer.vanevra@cbc.ca.

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