Film & Television

The Oscars: Celebrating the Best in Film,
Except for Women and People of Color 

Brad Pitt, in accepting Best Supporting Actor for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, did say, “They told me I only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week. I’m thinking maybe Quentin does a movie about it. In the end, the adults do the right thing.” As expected, he’s been sorely criticized by the conservative media for alluding to the President’s impeachment.

Karen Rupert Toliver, who accepted the award for Best Animated Short with Matthew A. Cherry for Hair Love, explained “It was a labor of love and it’s because we have a firm belief that representation matters deeply — especially in cartoons, because that’s where we first see our movies and that’s when we shape our lives and think about how we see our world.” The filmmakers brought De’Andre Arnold, the Texas high school senior who was recently suspended for his dreadlocks, with them to the ceremony.

A power trio of women presenters, Brie Larson (Oscar-winner for Room), Sigourney Weaver (three-time nominee), and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) joked about starting a fight club and asserted that all women are superheroes. They introduced the first female conductor that the Academy Awards has ever had, Eimear Noone, with quite a bit (as in, quite a bit too much) enthusiasm. It should be noted that Noone, talented as she is, only conducted the Best Original Score nominees, not the rest of the program. Then, in a move that was suspiciously fortuitous, the award itself was presented to the only woman nominated in the category, Hildur Guðnadóttir for Joker. The entire exercise in demonstrating the Academy’s appreciation for women was uncomfortably forced. It felt like too much, too late.

Guðnadóttir, the first woman to win for best score since they combined three composition awards into one in 2000 (and up against the inimitable John Williams with more than 50 nominations and five wins), encouraged other women. “To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within, please speak up,” she said. “We need to hear your voices.”

Laura Dern, who won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal as an L.A. divorce attorney in the celebrated Netflix film Marriage Story, lovingly thanked her movie colleagues and her family. But, she didn’t mention the powerful feminist overtones of either her award-winning part or her other notable role as Marmee in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, a movie which had six nominations but left with only one win for Jacqueline Durran’s Best Costumes. 

Idina Menzel, or as John Travolta once renamed her, “Adele Dazeem,” sang the power ballad “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II along with women from a dozen other countries singing non-English versions. Chrissy Metz, best known as Kate Pearson from TV’s This Is Us, sang “I’m Standing with You” from Breakthrough. Erivo sang “Stand Up” from Harriet and received a standing ovation. But, the Oscar went to long-time collaborators Elton John and Bernie Taupin for Rocket Man’s “I’m Gonna Love Me Again.”

Joaquin Phoenix, who — as most expected — won Best Actor for Joker, began his speech with expressions of gratitude, but quickly moved into social protest. “I think the greatest gift that [film has] given me and many of us in this room is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless. I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the distressing issues that we are facing collectively and I think at times we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality. I think whether we’re talking about gender and equality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice. We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity.” His powerful words took an odd turn as he illustrated his point with a disturbing example from the dairy industry. However, Hollywood has come to expect outrageous behavior from Phoenix, a self-described “scoundrel all my life.”

Renee Zellweger, whose win for Judy was also no surprise, thanked her parents, “To my immigrant folks who came here with nothing but each other and the American Dream, how about this?” She continued by listing her heroes and contending that our heroes and teachers bring us together. “Miss Garland, you are certainly among the heroes who unite and define us. And this is certainly for you.”

The big winner of the evening was South Korea’s Parasite, with writer/director Bong Joon Ho winning Best International Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and finally Best Picture (along with co-producer Kwak Sin Ae). Presenter Jane Fonda, in the Elie Saab dress she wore for the 2014 Oscars after vowing to quit shopping and with a grey pixie cut, seemed overwhelmed by her standing ovation prior to announcing the nominees. “Nothing is more important than raising awareness, right?” she asked. 

As a woman who has made as many headlines for her activism as her acting, Fonda takes that advice to heart. Hopefully, some time in the foreseeable future, the old guard at the Academy will do so too.


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  • Arlene McCarthy February 11, 2020 at 11:34 am

    I welcome the day when the Oscars are given to the best film, actor, etc. because of their work and not have color or gender be a factor.