Even without last year’s ceremony as a comparison, this year’s Academy Awards were fairly serene. There weren’t any true upsets, most of the acceptance speeches either avoided politics completely or addressed the current climate in fairly broad terms, and moreover, despite the lip service paid to inclusion, representation, and change, it became clear that the road ahead is still a long one.
For instance, amidst the #MeToo movement, Ryan Seacrest, who has been accused of sexual misconduct, was E!’s red carpet host, and seemed to suffer few consequences in coverage despite the allegations. Kobe Bryant, who has been accused of rape, took home the statue for Best Animated Short for Dear Basketball. And Gary Oldman, who has been accused of domestic assault and defended Mel Gibson (who, notably, was derided by Jimmy Kimmel in the ceremony’s opening monologue) for his anti-Semitic comments, won one of the biggest prizes of the night, taking home the award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. The quality of their work aside, it was strange to think some cases merit discussion while others don’t. James Franco, for instance, has all but disappeared following the allegations that cropped up after his win at the Golden Globes, and Casey Affleck withdrew from presenting at the ceremony in order to avoid discussing the sexual harassment lawsuits he’s been faced with in the past.
Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo, was even in attendance, appearing with other activists (including Patrisse Cullors and Alice Brown Otter) as a part of Common and Andra Day’s performance of “Stand Up For Something.” The song was one of the most politically explicit segments of the evening along with the "Trailblazers" montage, which was introduced by Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra, and Salma Hayek, all of whom have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. Some of it was heartening, such as Kumail Nanjiani’s quip that he’d spent his whole life relating to straight, white, male characters on screen, and that it was time for things to go the other way around, but other parts served as a reminder of how much distance there’s still left to cover. In the video, Geena Davis recalled that Thelma & Louise had been heralded as the beginning of female-led films. Obviously, that break never occurred. Now, maybe it might, but not if we don’t put in the work.
To that end, Frances McDormand had the most provocative speech of the night. Accepting the award for Best Actress for her performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, she encouraged all of the female nominees to stand, and then went on to stress the importance of the "inclusion rider," a clause in an actor’s contract that requires that the cast and crew of a film be diverse in order to retain them.
As far as current progress goes, in their speech for Best Original Song for Coco’s “Remember Me,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez noted that their category was almost 50/50 for gender equality, and the film’s director, Lee Unkrich, stressed the importance of representation as he accepted the award for Best Animated Feature. The evening also saw Daniela Vega, the first openly transgender Oscars presenter, take to the stage twice after A Fantastic Woman won for Best Foreign Language Film. Wes Studi, who might be the ceremony’s first Native American presenter, finished his segment by speaking in Tsalagi Gawonihisdi, and Rachel Shenton signed her speech for Best Live Action Short Film in honor of Maisie Sly, the four-year-old deaf actress who stars in the film. Even Steven Spielberg made a metaphorical bow to the theme of the night, introducing himself as "Kate Capshaw’s husband."
They formed bright spots in an otherwise mostly predictable ceremony. As expected, Sam Rockwell won Best Supporting Actor for his turn in Three Billboards; Kazuhiro Tsuji won for Best Makeup and Hair Styling for his work in Darkest Hour; Mark Bridges won for Costume Design for Phantom Thread (as well as taking home the jet ski that Kimmel promised to whoever delivered the shortest acceptance speech); and Dunkirk swept through Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Achievement in Film Editing. Slightly more surprising was Allison Janney’s win for Best Supporting Actress for I, Tonya, given Laurie Metcalf, Mary J. Blige, and Lesley Manville’s nominations in the same category, as well as Icarus’s win for Best Documentary, Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405's win for Best Documentary (Short Subject), and James Ivory’s first Oscar, after three other nominations, for Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me by Your Name. He thanked his longtime collaborators Ruth Jhabvala and Ismail Merchant, both of whom have passed away, in his speech, as well as sporting one of the evening’s best looks: a shirt emblazoned with a portrait of Best Actor nominee Timothée Chalamet.
The best surprises of the night came in the form of Roger Deakins’s long-overdue win for Cinematography for Blade Runner 2049 (which also won for Visual Effects over War for the Planet of the Apes), and, in the closest thing to an upset, Jordan Peele’s win for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out. Peele became the first African American to win in that category, making his speech, in which he confessed to having started and stopped writing Get Out more than 20 times and emphasized the importance of raising other voices, particularly touching.
In a coup for a genre feature (at least in comparison to the rest of the nominated films), The Shape of Water took Best Picture, along with awards for Best Director for Guillermo del Toro, Best Original Score for Alexandre Desplat, and Achievement in Production Design. Del Toro spoke of his status as an immigrant, recalling his childhood in Mexico and how getting to where he is now had seemed like an impossible dream.
It was a sweet cap to the night, given the film’s message of embracing that which we perceive to be “other,” and the triumph of love over hate. It also served as a reminder, given del Toro’s emphasis on the importance of supporting young artists, that progress comes with action. The jokes throughout the night about Black Panther’s success mean little if the lesson that people of color can carry a blockbuster isn’t taken to heart. The rampant sexual harassment in the industry—in every industry—won’t stop if it’s only dealt with on a pick-and-choose basis. This year’s Oscars have practically made a sizzle reel for the film industry to come; now to put in the work, and hope it actually all comes to fruition.
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