NEW YORK — Even in a room dotted with Hollywood luminaries, the arrival of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper at a table at the National Board of Review awards gala Tuesday night caused a special kind of commotion.
Chairs were pushed aside. A group of onlookers formed seemingly out of nowhere, many raising their phones over each other trying to snap a picture. When a server balancing a platter of food approached the fray, a waitress offered her colleague two words: “Good luck.”
Generally speaking, the mood at the gala, held at Cipriani 42nd Street, was more casual than other awards season events, due in part to the fact that, as is always the case, the night’s winners had already been announced. (“Green Book” won best picture and actor; “A Star Is Born” took best director and actress.) Also, the event isn’t televised so acceptance speeches, unencumbered by broadcast time limits, were much looser and longer (and at times more rambling) than the Golden Globes on Sunday. Walkoff music played only when speeches were actually finished.
The night’s winners took advantage of that freedom to comment on the diversity in the teams behind this year’s movies.
Constance Wu, who starred in “Crazy Rich Asians,” which won for best ensemble, seemed to channel the 2002 Oscar acceptance speech by Halle Berry when she said, “This award isn’t just for us but it’s for all underrepresented people to finally be seen.”
Michelle Yeoh, another “Crazy Rich Asians” star, was applauded when she spoke of the film as a “landmark, historical moment for our culture.” She added, “You don’t have to treat us special. Just give us equal opportunities, that’s all we ask.”
There were also cheers in the audience when the “Orange Is the New Black” star Uzo Aduba presented best supporting actress to Regina King for her turn as the matriarch in the James Baldwin adaptation “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Aduba pointed out that “we rarely see such a multidimensional African-American woman on screen — let alone over 40.”
“In a time when we must unite as a single nation,” she added, “when we must remember there are still the same issues facing us as Mr. Baldwin wrote about in ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ over 40 years ago, these stories have to be told.”
As the ceremony was unfolding, President Donald Trump was addressing the nation about his long-promised border wall, and his presence was heavily felt in the room.
Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, who won for breakthrough performance in “Leave No Trace,” said she wanted to acknowledge the goodness in people. “Through the goodness in people, we can make a start toward a better world, a world that won’t come about if we build walls to keep each other out.” The comment was met with applause.
Soon after, Barry Jenkins, winner of best adapted screenplay for “If Beale Street Could Talk” and perhaps inspired by a profanity-laden speech Robert De Niro gave at last year’s gala, delivered the night’s most direct and harshly worded rebuke of the president.
“There is a film here called ‘Minding the Gap’ that is being celebrated by Bing Liu,” Jenkins said, referring to one of the board of review’s top five documentaries. “His family, they immigrated here and the president does not want them here. Chloé Zhao, who directed ‘The Rider,’ which is a masterpiece — the president does not want her here. There was a film this year called ‘Roma’ made by a man named Alfonso Cuarón. The people in that film, the president does not want here.”
And then, using a decidedly stronger word than “forget” and eliciting some of the loudest applause of the night, Jenkins said: “Forget him.”
A big cheer came when directorsBetsy West and Julie Cohen began their acceptance speech for best documentary for “RBG” with a “medical update” on the film’s subject, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“We are told by her family that Justice Ginsburg’s recovery from recent surgery is going very well,” West said.
Lady Gaga, walking onstage to accept the award for best actress for “A Star is Born,” asked, “Is Judge Kavanaugh still in office?” She went on to comment on how her own work helped her understand the challenges her character would face as a young woman in the music business, saying, “in my career, I have over and over again tried to subvert the influence of powerful men.”
“Every time they told me to go left,” she went on, “I would take a sharp, sharp right.”
She also expressed gratitude toward her collaborators, especially Bradley Cooper, whom she called a “modern directorial Houdini.”
Later, after being presented with the award for best director by Steven Spielberg, Cooper said that the recognition for his directorial debut gave him the “courage to disregard fear and to continue to pursue truth with love.”