“The Shape of Water” won best picture at Sunday night’s 90th Academy Awards.
During the ceremony, Hollywood took a few steps into the modern era, dealing head-on with issues of diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry and beyond.
Almost more important than the awards themselves — which featured symbolic wins for Jordan Peele, the first black winner for original screenplay, for “Get Out,” and best animated feature for “Coco,” which features a largely Mexican voice cast — was a nearly five-minute montage of Hollywood’s women and people of color talking about their desire to make movies and get them seen.
The reel was introduced by Ashley Judd, who helped bring down Harvey Weinstein and usher in the #MeToo movement, along with Salma Hayek and an emotional Annabella Sciorra.
“There’s nothing to be scared of,” comedian Sarah Silverman said in a brief clip. “It’s just equality.”
Probably the night’s most impactful moment came when Frances McDormand, winning her second best-actress Oscar for playing a ferocious small-town woman in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” put down her statuette and encouraged every female nominee in the theater to stand. “The filmmakers, the producers, the writers, the cinematographers,” she said. “We all have stories to tell.”
The Academy’s new attitude comes not a moment too soon. After two years of the #OscarsSoWhite outcry, the Academy in 2016 made an effort to broaden out its mostly white and mostly male membership, just in time to see a slew of unusual box-office hits in 2017, from the Mexican-themed animated movie “Coco” to Greta Gerwig’s female-led coming-of-age comedy “Lady Bird.”
There was a time when Hollywood didn’t believe that minorities and women could open successful movies, Jimmy Kimmel said in his opening Oscars monologue. “And the reason I can remember that is because it was last March,” he said.
That’s how fast things have changed, and you could see it in an Oscars ceremony that juxtaposed nonpolitical humor with controversial agendas, tightly scripted corn with off-the-cuff commentary.
For every harmless joke about Christopher Plummer’s age or the sleaziness of Hollywood agents, there was an impassioned speech about ethnicity or gender.
Kimmel proved to a good fit for the Oscars, a hip and young(ish) comedian with a liberal pedigree but also a self-mocking streak (he cheerfully called his audience “godless Hollywood elites”).
He sneaked in a mention of an upcoming gun-control rally led by the Parkland shooting students, a bit of advocacy that earned warm applause, but he didn’t press it. While gun control has dominated the news lately, it would be risky for any Oscars host to wrest the spotlight away from harassment.
Kimmel even brought Guillermo del Toro’s “Shape Of Water” into the discussion by noting, “We will always remember this as the year men screwed up so badly, women started dating fish.”
Presenting the award for production design, Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani spoke about immigration, hailing their Kenyan and Pakistani roots. They ran through some of the usual scripted Oscar banter — “My actual given Pakistani name is Chris Pine,” Nanjiani joked — until they turned to a more serious message. “To all the Dreamers out there, we stand with you,” Nanjiani added.
In this year’s Oscars, presenters spoke almost as frankly as the winners. Presenting a performance of “Remember Me,” the theme song from “Coco,” Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez explained the movie’s plot — in which a living boy crosses over to the Land of the Dead — and then seemed to sneak in a bit of political commentary, adding, “Because in the afterworld, you know, there are no walls.”