With just a little more than two weeks left before voting closes for the 89th Oscars, Hollywood turned its spotlight 90 miles north to the beachside town of Santa Barbara as stars gathered for the eponymous film festival’s annual Virtuoso Awards — a celebration of, well, celebrity.
This year’s program honored a record eight film stars who had breakout performances in films released last year, including five men: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Simon Helberg (Florence Foster Jenkins), Stephen McKinley (Fences) Dev Patel (Lion) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals).
However, it was the three women of color who dominated the red carpet and captivated the audience during the awards ceremony at the Arlington Theater, the city’s Golden Era movie palace.
Ruth Negga (Loving) confessed during her Q&A that she had little understanding of the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court before agreeing to the role of the African-American woman who together with her white Caucasian husband ended America’s miscegenation laws with their 1967 landmark lawsuit.
In her naturally elegant accent, the Ethiopian-Irish actress commented how films like Loving “bear witness to important stories that might not otherwise be known”.
Janelle Monáe was honored for wildly different performances in both Moonlight and Hidden Figures, playing the lover of a drug dealer and a NASA mathematics engineer, respectively.
The American recording artist decided to forgo her music career temporarily in order to focus on film. “I’ve always considered myself as an artist who is pursuing storytelling rather than an actor or a musician,” she said.
Naomie Harris elicited nervous laughter from the audience when she described how her powerful performance of a drug-addled mother shown over the course of 15 years in Moonlight had to be shot in just three days. “For some reason, I had visa issues,” quipped the English actress.