Graham: Inclusion takes center stage at Academy Awards
The monster movie love story “The Shape of Water” won four awards, including Best Picture, at Sunday’s Academy Awards, a show that signaled the shape of Hollywood to come.
Inclusion and equality were the major themes of the 90th annual awards gala. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” best actress winner Frances McDormand, accepting her second Oscar (following her win for 1996’s “Fargo”), encouraged all of the evening’s female nominees to stand up during her fiery, impassioned acceptance speech.
“Look around ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed,” she said, as actors, directors, costume designers, composers and more throughout the Dolby Theatre rose to their feet. “I have two words to leave you with tonight: inclusion rider,” referring to provisions actors can include in their contract to ensure equality in gender and racial hiring on film sets.
Director Guillermo del Toro, who became the third Mexican-born filmmaker to win the best director prize in the last five years (following “Gravity’s” Alfonso Cuaron and “Birdman” and “The Revenant” double winner Alejandro G. Inarritu), spoke of change while accepting the best picture trophy for “The Shape of Water.”
“This is a door,” del Toro said, speaking to the next generation of filmmakers. “Kick it open and come in.”
That door is still on its hinges, but it won’t be for long.
Sunday’s show saw landmark wins in several categories:
■ Jordan Peele became the first black screenwriter to win the best original screenplay Oscar for his race-based horror film, “Get Out.”
■ At 89, James Ivory became the oldest Oscar winner in history for his screenplay for the same-sex romance “Call Me By Your Name,” which won the best adapted screenplay Oscar.
■ The transgender love story “A Fantastic Woman” won for best foreign language film, and its star, Daniela Vega, became the Oscars’ first transgender presenter.
■ Even Kobe Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, won one, for best animated short for “Dear Basketball,” his ode to his lifelong love affair with hoops.
If the show wasn’t as radical as some were hoping — “Lady Bird” and its director Greta Gerwig went home empty-handed, and not that it was warranted, but a best picture win for “Get Out” would have really shaken things up — it was clear a change is in the air.
But change doesn’t come overnight, and there’s still some housekeeping to be done before the place can be flipped over.
A short film that aired during the show featured interviews with several nominees and discussed the impact of diverse films such as “Wonder Woman,” “Get Out” and “Black Panther” over the last year. Kumail Nanjiani, the Pakistani-born screenwriter of “The Big Sick,” explained the changing face of Hollywood and why diversity in storytelling is natural:
“Some of my favorite movies are movies by straight white dudes starring straight white dudes,” the Oscar nominated screenwriter said. “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.”
Comedian Sarah Silverman was even more succinct. “There’s nothing to be scared of,” she said. “It’s just equality.”
With the backdrop of the MeToo, Time’s Up and Never Again movements, Sunday’s show was sure to be politically charged. And it was, though it was never a heavy affair, as presenters were able to deftly make light of the major issues at hand. Said “Girls Trip” star Tiffany Haddish, who took the stage as a presenter alongside Maya Rudolph: “When we came out together, we know some of you were thinking, ‘are the Oscars too black now?’ ”
Though the Oscars So White controversy is a couple of years in the rearview, Sunday’s four acting awards were all given to white performers. Along with McDormand, there was best actor winner Gary Oldman, who won for his outsize portrayal of Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour.” Allison Janney won for best supporting actress for her knockout role as ice skater Tonya Harding’s fire-breathing mother in “I, Tonya.” And Sam Rockwell nabbed best supporting actor honors for his role as a racist cop in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
All four were heavily favored to win heading into the show, as they had won most of the predictive awards leading up to the Oscar telecast. Those wins, coupled with “The Shape of Water’s” best picture and best director triumphs, led to an evening of few surprises, as things went almost entirely according to script. A shakeup or two could have really livened up the evening, which ran a too-long three hours and 49 minutes.
As usual, the show was bogged down with clips packages, and its musical performances didn’t pop. Of the five best original song nominees, only “This is Me,” from “The Greatest Showman,” had any zing; the others — including native Detroiter Sufjan Stevens, whose performance echoed Elliott Smith’s Oscar appearance 20 years ago — felt flat.
Kimmel — who presided over last year’s Oscar ceremony, which memorably ended with the biggest flub in awards show history when the wrong best picture winner was announced — wasn’t as sharp as he was during his initial hosting gig. “This is a night for positivity,” he said during his opening monologue, foreshadowing the show’s kinder tone.
An unfunny running gag had him timing speeches and promising a jet ski to the award winner who kept their speech the shortest. Later, he gathered a group of celebs from the audience and marched across the street to a theater full of regular people to surprise them with concessions, an “Ellen”-style stunt with no real payoff other than the visual gag of seeing beautiful, highly made up celebrities like Gal Gadot mingling with common folk. (An extremely similar bit last year saw a bus full of tourists crash the Oscar audience; this was the same idea but reversed.)
Other multiple winners at the show included Christopher Nolan’s WWII action drama “Dunkirk,” which won a trio of technical awards. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who had been nominated 13 previous times but had never won, finally picked up an award for lensing the eye-poppingly beautiful “Blade Runner 2049,” which also won a visual effects prize. And Pixar’s “Coco” won both best animated feature and the best original song award for “Remember Me.”
“Coco” co-director Lee Unkrich stumped for the importance of representation while accepting the best animated film award.
“With ‘Coco,’ we tried to take a step forward toward a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look and talk and live like they do,” he said. “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.”
Director del Toro, one of several winners throughout the night to talk about being an immigrant to America, boasted of the transformative power of movies and the power of film.
“The greatest thing our art does and our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand,” he said. “We should continue doing that when the world tells us to make them deeper.”
Hollywood is currently in the process of redrawing its own lines. It will take time, but Sunday’s Oscar show demonstrated it is serious about change, and the change has begun.