The 90th Academy Awards took great pains to address some of the controversies swirling around the film business in the past year—from pay equality to toxic masculinity to diversity, both in front of and behind the camera. In fact, the ceremony spent so much time both patting itself on the back and taking itself to task at the same time, that the polarizing Trump was barely even mentioned.
Sunday’s telecast featured a video highlighting the contributions to some of the year’s best films by people of color and women. There were also impassioned pleas from the likes of The Big Sick star Kumail Nanjiani for “straight white dudes” to embrace the idea of viewing stories from the perspective of someone like him.
“This entire fall, the Time’s Up movement, everyone is getting a voice to express something that has been happening forever, not only in Hollywood, but in every walk of life,” Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino, who was among the actresses to go public alleging sexual misconduct from Hollywood super-producer-turned-pariah Harvey Weinstein, said in the clip.
Even the presenters were noticeably more representative of the changing face of America. This year, there was a trans person (an Oscar first) and a Native American occupying the same stage as members of traditional Hollywood royalty. And in one of the buzziest moments of the night, Best Actress winner Frances McDormand turned her acceptance speech into a rousing endorsement of the “inclusion rider,” which would contractually solidify gender and racial equity on future projects.
If viewers were looking for a Best Picture winner to make a statement about the fraught political and cultural climate, Shape of Water was not the obvious choice.
Still, in the midst of Hollywood’s woke-tacular, there were some uncomfortable reminders that the industry has not fully excised the skeletons in its closet. Save for a subtle bit of shade from actress Taraji P. Henson, E! host Ryan Seacrest was largely spared condemnation as he performed his regular red carpet interview duties amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
While Seacrest has had some prominent defenders—including his morning-show co-host, Kelly Ripa—the current climate post-#MeToo and the presence of key members of the Time’s Up campaign at the ceremony suggested that there might be a reckoning. But other than some reports of celebrities deliberately avoiding him, Seacrest emerged relatively unscathed.
The same goes for Best Actor shoo-in Gary Oldman, whose all-but-assured victory seemed ripe for derailment when years-ago domestic abuse allegations resurfaced after the nominations were announced. Still, it was striking to note the absence at the ceremony of last year’s winner Casey Affleck, who has been sued over alleged sexual harassment by two women and settled with them for an undisclosed sum in 2010. Another off-putting moment for some viewers was watching NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who was accused of rape in 2003, accept the prize for Best Animated Short.
Meanwhile, although the groundbreaking, race-themed Get Out triumphed in the Best Original Screenplay category, it came up short in ever other category it was nominated in. And Lady Bird, which could have provided the second female Best Director winner in history, ended up getting completely shut out.
In fact, despite all the championing of diversity on stage, all four major acting awards went to white performers. However, Guillermo del Toro’s win demonstrated the continued dominance of Latin filmmakers in the Best Director category. Four of the last five Best Director winners were Latin, with Alejandro Inarritu pulling off rare back-to-back wins in 2014 and 2015.
Del Toro’s whimsical, romantic film The Shape of Water also took home Best Picture, which—despite some of its less conventional elements—may have been one of the safer options available to the still-evolving community of Oscar voters. In the lead-up to Oscar night, there was considerable frustration among Get Out fans that older, white voters were allegedly refusing to even consider it. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri had a loud chorus of detractors, in part because of its racial politics. And there was no clear consensus favorite among the remaining nominees.
While The Shape of Water was a critical favorite and the most-nominated movie, if viewers were looking to see a Best Picture winner that was going to make a statement about the fraught political and cultural climate in America, it was not the obvious choice. However, its defenders are keen to point out that its heroes are a woman in the mute community, a black woman and a gay man—all marginalized, under-represented populations. Some haters have derided the film as “Woke Splash,” but like all Best Picture winners, only time will tell if it’ll be remembered as a classic or a misfire.
Perhaps the moment that best captured the evening’s contradictions was the onstage appearance by three of Harvey Weinstein’s most prominent accusers—actresses Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek and Annabella Sciorra. For years, Weinstein was a fixture at the ceremony, and a major power broker. It was almost exactly 20 years ago that he was accused of strong-arming his Shakespeare in Love into an unlikely victory over that year’s Best Picture front-runner, Saving Private Ryan. And today, he’s been excommunicated, while the women he allegedly abused stood tall together.
“Hi, it’s nice to see you all again, it’s been a while,” Sciorra told the crowd, in a voice tinged with rueful righteousness but also a bit of sadness. Sciorra saw her promising career cut short prematurely, in part because she ran afoul of a man who made his name at the Oscars. And while host Jimmy Kimmel tried to neutralize the issue as best he could with jokes about the statuette’s lack of anatomy, it was clear that this awards ceremony will have to continue making amends in order to keep its problematic past from defining its future.