He didn’t, of course. He and his wife Emily V. Gordon were nominated for their screenplay The Big Sick and didn’t win, though it picked up Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards the night before. I was anxious about this – The Big Sick was a totally worthy screenplay but my heart was with Get Out, so I had very complicated feelings – but ultimately I think Kumail had almost as big a night not winning as he would have had they won.
The Big Sick came in second!— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) March 5, 2018
Obviously it’s weird that I’m talking about his big night when he shares the nomination with his co-writer, who’s also his wife. I was already worried she was being sidelined, and I have super complicated feelings only highlighting one half of a team effort. But at the same time, Nanjiani didn’t just have a good night – it was pretty much a star turn.
First there was the award that he presented with Lupita Nyong’o:
"Dreams are the foundation of Hollywood and dreams are the foundation of America." —LupitaNyong'o— The A.V. Club (@TheAVClub) March 5, 2018
"So to all the Dreamers out there, we stand with you." —Kumail Nanjiani#Oscars pic.twitter.com/MTDOhQe2FZ
After they bonded over having names that confuse people and won my heart forever, they announced they are both immigrants, and dreamers, and so they support Dreamers. Subtle, right?
But even though it’s a pretty substantial message that has to be delivered with a light touch, Nanjiani has them laughing all the way through. He’s disarming even though he’s being totally honest and I’m sitting here envying his deftness with tone and his charm…
And then an hour later he did it all over again! In the diversity montage, he has a couple of cute quotes, but then gets real when he says:
“Some of my favourite movies are about straight white dudes by straight white dudes. Now, straight white dudes can watch movies starring me, and you relate to that! It’s not that hard – I’ve done it my whole life!”
Here’s the thing. I was careful about punctuating that quote above, and he says it pretty much that way. He’s not syrupy sweet to cushion the blow of what he’s saying, he’s straight out about it being past time to get interested in people who don’t look like you onscreen. ‘It’s not that hard!’
But instead of seeming like he was a chastiser he seems like the cool guy everyone wants to be friends with because he’s so smart and funny. I want to see this spin into something, and in the meantime see Emily V Gordon (who, it should be noted, isn’t an actor and would naturally be behind the scenes) get some acclaim in her own right.
But overall, for a night when they came in ‘second’, Nanjiani was a pretty big winner. And would probably have a punchline to help end my article better than this.