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Live Drawing the 2019 Academy Awards

A night of inclusion, exuberance, and color

Liza Donnelly
Feb 25 · 8 min read

Of all the award shows, the Academy Awards are my favorite to cover. Perhaps it’s because I am a lover of film and a believer in the power of storytelling, or perhaps it’s about the energy, fun, and playfulness of evening. It’s also a distraction from the news. When I am live-drawing, I often go into a meditative state, ignoring the swirl of activity around me, but when I go to the Oscars, I can’t do that. Particularly on the red carpet, there are so many things to draw, and the activity around me energizes what and how I work.

This year, the energy felt different. I saw and drew many more well-known actors, directors, and writers than in previous years. I noticed more diversity, and a palpable feeling of camaraderie. People — including some stars — just wanted to hang out on the red carpet. The buzz was heightened.

I arrived last Wednesday to live-draw the traditional red carpet rollout. I love this six-minute ritual. About 30 members of the media were there with cameras and video equipment, poised for the countdown at 10 a.m., when three men from the carpet company do the honors of unrolling. It felt a little silly (but fun) as journalists rushed backward and all the cameras focused on an unfurling carpet.

While this event has not changed in the few years I’ve covered it, it was still noticeable to me — in part because I draw what is around me — that the camera people and journalists are always primarily white men. I was among the few women present at that moment.

Lauren Selman is the event coordinator for the red carpet

For the rest of that day, with my credentials around my neck, I wandered and drew more of what I saw as crew began construction and preparations.

On Thursday evening, I attended a panel discussion of the directors of all the films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film this year.

When I returned on Saturday to the site of the awards, the red carpet was further along in completion. This year, I did not see any oversize Oscar statuettes (as I have in years past). I assume not having life-size Oscars on the red carpet landscape was intentional on the part of the Academy, perhaps in order to break from the past a bit. Perhaps the Oscar statue reminds viewers of a history of a measure of sexism and racism within the Academy.

Later that day, I walked around Hollywood and Highland, just outside the Oscar activity. I saw food vendors and tourists.

On Saturday evening, I was invited to visit the Oscar kitchen, one of my favorite things to do. Talk about energy!

Then I attended the Oscar preview party, where I wandered and drew some more.

Sunday was showtime! The red carpet was open 24/7 for crew and journalists, so I went down early in the morning to scope it out. Someone felt a wall needed some touching up.

Someone else touched up the gown of an on-air journalist.

Meanwhile, staff measured the spaces between each red carpet divider. There were the ever-present men in tuxedos, watching and guarding everything.

To gear up for showtime myself, I returned to my room and put on my long dress. I dutifully returned at the hour of red carpet lockdown, 1 p.m., when press with access to the red carpet had to take their spots. I found mine, and it was better than ever. I had this view:

The red carpet has “lanes” — one for members of the Academy with seat tickets, one fire lane, and one for the nominated stars.

Right where I was positioned, guests with seat tickets and nominated stars would process around the corner in their red carpet lanes and head into the Dolby Theater. I saw all kinds of people mingling in front of me before going inside to take their seats.

And as a bonus, a Twitter follower even caught me on camera.

Here are some of the dresses I saw:

And I captured some famous stars:

At 5 p.m., we dashed to the media room to watch the show. I missed most of the performance by Adam Lambert and members of Queen, so I couldn’t draw them. Then the wonderful trio of Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler opened things up as only they could — hysterically.

Regina King won Best Supporting Actress.

Melissa McCarthy, Brian Tyree Henry, and Keegan-Michael Key were some of the fun presenters.

Jennifer Hudson sang the song featured in RBG, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary.

Other familiar songstress faces at the show were Babs and Bette.

Ruth Carter won for Best Costume Design for Black Panther.

Mahershala Ali took home the award for Best Supporting Actor.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga performed their duet from A Star Is Born.

Jokesters Mike Myers and Dana Carvey reunited to introduce the nomination of Bohemian Rhapsody for Best Picture.

A highlight of the evening was when Spike Lee won for Best Adapted Screenplay and jumped for joy into Samuel L. Jackson’s arms.

And when Lee read his speech, he urged us all to “do the right thing.”

Amandla Stenberg presented alongside Rep. John Lewis.

Olivia Colman brought the house down with her moving acceptance speech for Best Actress.

And Rami Malek, who is a son of immigrants, won Best Actor for portraying a gay immigrant.

The Academy chose Green Book for Best Picture, and director Peter Farrelly accepted on behalf of his team.

While the 91st Academy Awards felt different to me in some ways, in many cases they felt the same as always. My task is to draw what I see. In my live drawings, I not only draw lines, I also draw colors, and I noticed myself drawing the same preponderance of black suits and white faces as I have in years past.

Still, there were women wearing colorful dresses and also women wearing tuxedos. I saw men wearing bright colors, too. Most importantly, I noticed many more faces of color this year.

Things are indeed changing, and I see this as I draw. But change within our culture is slow, and so it is at the Oscars. We can hope for immediate shifts in the way we treat and accept each other, but we can’t always get it. I applaud the Academy for attempting to help usher change in whatever ways it can.

Liza Donnelly

Written by

Cartoonist/writer for New Yorker, CBS News, CNN, Author, performer, TED and SXSW speaker, Barnard Fellow. Looking to change world w humor. lizadonnelly.com

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