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Most Political Oscars Ever? Kimmel, Hollywood Call Out Trump

Variety logo Variety 2/27/2017 Ted Johnson

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Politics pervaded at this year’s Oscar telecast — Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue, acceptance speeches, even the reaction to the biggest flub in Academy history.

After it was made apparent that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway revealed the wrong winner — it should have been “Moonlight” instead of “La La Land” — the instant reaction on Twitter was quickly to compare the moment to the 2016 election. As in, why couldn’t this have happened on Nov. 8.

This was a night of diversity for the Academy which, after being pilloried a year ago for the lack of nominees of color, rebounded with a cross section of nominees.

“Tonight is proof that art has no borders,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, clearly pleased that her effort to bring in new members seemed to have worked.

Some remarks took on a double meaning — reflecting on the Academy’s diverse slate of nominees, but also contrasting that to what is going on it Washington D.C. Kimmel pointed out the contrast in a quip at the top of the show.

“Maybe this is not a popular thing to say, but I want to say thank you to Donald Trump , I mean, remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?” he said in the opening monologue   

Trump apparently wasn’t going to watch the show, but he sure was a presence throughout the night. That was expected. What was unclear was the degree to which he would be a target.

The strongest condemnation of the president came from Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian filmmaker who won for foreign language feature with his film “The Salesman,” After Trump issued an executive order that banned travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, Faradi’s ability to attend the awards was put in doubt. But he ended up boycotting.

Instead, a statement was read on his behalf in which he denounced Trump’s actions as an “inhumane law.”

“Dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war,” Faradi said in the statement, as the audience applauded.

Later, Gael Garcia Bernal, presenting the award for animated feature and animated short, spoke out on Trump’s plans to build a border wall.

“As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I’m against any form of wall that wants to separate us,” he said.

Rich Howard, co-director of “Zootopia,” which won for animated feature, said, “We are so grateful to the audiences all over the world that embraced this film with this story of tolerance being more powerful than fear of the other.”

“Moonlight” writers Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, after winning best adapted screenplay, spoke directly to minority students: “This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls, and non-gender conforming who don’t see themselves, we’re trying to show you you and us,” McCraney said.

Others were more subtle, like Mark Rylance, presenting supporting actress, who talked of “opposing without hatred.” A number of nominees, including Ruth Negga, star of “Loving,” wore blue ribbons in support of the ACLU. Ava DuVernay, nominated for documentary feature, wore a gown from a designer from a Muslim-majority country, Ashi Studio in Lebanon.

Some of the more powerful statements were ones left unsaid on stage. Mahershala Ali, winner for “Moonlight,” was the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. Unlike his Screen Actors Guild speech, where he talked of his religion, he kept his Oscar remarks to thanking those who were his inspiration.

Katherine Johnson, the 98-year-old real-life subject of “Hidden Figures,” made a surprise appearance along with the stars of the movie in one of the Oscarcast’s high points.

What was striking this year is the extent to which topical references drew applause, not boos. It used to be that nominees and presenters risked condemnation for bringing politics into the ceremony. Now it’s expected.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of lopsided nature of Hollywood’s politics, or to the extent to which Trump has become the topic of conversation, no matter the cultural moment.

Kimmel couldn’t help but come back to Trump throughout the ceremony, right from the top of his monologue when he said that the show was “being telecast in 225 countries that now hate us.”

He introduced nominee Meryl Streep as “overrated.” That is what Trump tweeted about her after she delivered a blistering attack on him at the Golden Globes. Kimmel asked her to stand up, and Streep received a standing ovation.

Trump himself was a prolific tweeter during past ceremonies in 2015, 2014, and 2013, offering critiques on everything from the choice of winners to the set designs. He even suggested that he should host.

That wasn’t the case this year, which fed into another bit from Kimmel.

“We are more than two hours into the show and Donald Trump hasn’t tweeted at us once, and I am starting to get worried about him,” Kimmel said, before writing a tweet to the president along with another that said “hello” from Streep.

But Trump did comment on one aspect of the Oscarcast — one of its ads. He sent out a tweet early on Sunday, when he pointed out a New York Times ad that was to run during the telecast.

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