By the time Jimmy Kimmel, host of the 90th Academy Awards, took the stage at the Dolby Theatre, there was already an uncomfortable tension surrounding what Hollywood loves to call its biggest night.
Outside on red carpet during the pre-show was Ryan Seacrest, accused by his former stylist of sexual harassment but still armed with a microphone from the E! network. And so Seacrest found himself in the delicate position of needing to talk to Christopher Plummer, who was nominated for his performance in All the Money in the World — which is a role he only got because Kevin Spacey, accused by many men of sexual harassment and violence, was erased from the picture by director Ridley Scott.
Is it possible to interview Plummer without mentioning Spacey and the reason Plummer is in the film at all? Seacrest managed it, though one wonders if it is advisable to have an interviewer on the red carpet who can’t ask the nominated actors direct, basic questions about the movies of which they are a part.
In a moment that sizzled across social media for hours, Taraji P. Henson — one of the few women who did not simply skip Seacrest’s stop on the carpet, as many were reportedly counseled by their publicists to do — was talking to Seacrest about Mary J Blige, a double nominee whose performance of her nominated song from Mudbound would be introduced by Henson that night, when she maybe put a curse on him.
“You know what,” Henson said. “The universe has a way of taking care of the good people.” She paused and gave Seacrest a little pinch on the chin. “You know what I mean?”
And then came Kimmel’s monologue. For a man tasked with hosting the first Oscars of the Time’s Up era (would that there were literally one woman capable of hosting this awards show, but I guess no one, not even this year’s most obvious candidate, came to ABC’s mind), he did a fine, forgettable, and mostly inoffensive job. He’s come such a long way from The Man Show, and it seems that’s what the Oscars would like us to applaud, generally speaking: Having come such a long way.
“What happened with Harvey, and what’s happening all over, was long overdue,” Kimmel said. “We can’t let bad behavior slide anymore. The world is watching us. We need to set an example and the truth is if we are successful here, if we can work together to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, if we can do that, women will only have to deal with harassment all the time at every other place they go.”
This year’s ceremony lasted approximately eighteen back-to-back forevers and included several conspicuously lengthy montages of old movies for no apparent reason (it’s probably safe to say that the people who watch the Oscars, year after year, already have a fairly good idea what a movie is) as well as a not-exactly-endearing field trip of some glamorous A-listers to a movie theater across the street stuffed with normals. But if there was any coherent through-line, it was that this is what it looks like when the entertainment industry takes a step forward: The step is wobbly and uncertain, like an actress teetering on too-high heels.
It isn’t nothing. But it’s not going to be the watershed moment more progressive moviegoers are hoping for, unless by “watershed moment” you mean the sex scene in The Shape of Water, in which case, this was definitely the Oscars for you.
The show carved out a segment for Time’s Up, with Weinstein accusers Ashley Judd, who was among the first women to come forward in the New York Times’ original story on Weinstein’s abuse; Salma Hayek, who detailed the sexually harassment and coercion she experienced at Weinstein’s hands in a New York Times op-ed of her own; and Annabella Sciorra, who told the New Yorker that Weinstein had violently raped her and she feared the consequences of speaking out about his abuse.
“The changes we are witnessing are being driven by the powerful sound of new voices,” Judd said. “Of different voices, of our voices, joining together in a mighty chorus that is finally saying: Time’s up.”
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) March 5, 2018
Their speech was followed by a featurette about inclusion in film, with nominee and presenter Kumail Nanjiani giving one of the best lines of the night: “Some of my favorite movies are by straight white dudes, about straight white dudes. Now you can watch my movies and relate to me. It’s not that hard. I’ve been doing it my whole life.” Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight, described watching women cry at Wonder Woman, and how he knew it presaged the emotional response he was certain would come for Black Panther, for the next Get Out.
And there were victories for underrepresented voices, in categories big and small. Daniela Vega became the first openly transgender presenter in Oscars history; her movie, A Fantastic Woman, took home the Oscar for best foreign film. Jordan Peele won best original screenplay for Get Out, becoming the first black writer to do so. Call Me By Your Name‘s James Ivory won best adapted screenplay. Greta Gerwig didn’t land any wins for Lady Bird, but she did get a perfectly executed shoutout from Emma Stone, who announced the nominees for best director by saying, “These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year.” (A page out of the Natalie Portman playbook.)
As Common and Andra Day performed the nominated song “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall, they shared the stage with activists, including Time’s Up founder Tarana Burke and eight-year-old Bana Alabed, a Syrian refugee whose tweets describing the horrors in Aleppo captured worldwide attention.
Nanjiani, presenting alongside Lupita Nyong’o, talked about how he and Nyong’o both are immigrants who dreamed of working in the movies, “so, to all the DREAMers out there, we stand with you.”
Rachel Shenton, accepting the award for best short film (live action) for The Silent Child, signed as she spoke. “Our movie is about a deaf child being born into a world of silence. It’s not exaggerated or sensationalized for the movie. This is happening, millions of children all over the world live in silence and face communication barriers. And particularly access to education. So, deafness is a silent disability. You can’t see it and it’s not life-threatening, so I want to say the biggest of thank you’s to the Academy for allowing us to put this in front of a mainstream audience.”
And yet: It was an awards show that saw victories for both Gary Oldman, an accused domestic abuser (he won best lead actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour) and Kobe Bryant, an accused rapist, who won for his animated short Dear Basketball. Neither winner went unnoticed on Twitter. There, viewers noted the undeniable mixed-messaging — if not the outright hypocrisy — of these men bounding onto the stage to thank the Academy on a night that was ostensibly setting the tone for a new normal, one where victims are believed and perpetrators are held accountable.
So the Oscars were not so white this year, and they were not so male. But as Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph hilariously assured the audience, “There are so many more white people to come tonight.” And when Frances McDormand, accepting her best actress trophy for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, implored every female nominee in the room to stand, the camera panned over a crowd that was mostly suited and seated. It was a stark visual reminder of the latest data on female representation at the Academy Awards, which in turn is a shorthand for female representation across the film industry: 80 percent of all non-acting nominees are men.
McDormand ended her speech on “two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.” An inclusion rider is a stipulation an actor can make in a contract, mandating a minimum percentage of women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups to be hired or cast in a project. As McDormand put it to reporters backstage at the Oscars, “It means you can ask for and/or demand at least 50 percent diversity in, not only casting, but also the crew.”
Stacy L. Smith, director of USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiatives and the researcher behind the Annenberg studies that track representation in film, wrote about the concept (calling it an “equity rider”) in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter back in 2014:
The clause would state that tertiary speaking characters should match the gender distribution of the setting for the film, as long as it’s sensible for the plot. If notable actors working across 25 top films in 2013 had made this change to their contracts, the proportion of balanced films (about half-female) would have jumped from 16 percent to 41 percent. Imagine the possibilities if a few actors exercised their power contractually on behalf of women and girls. It wouldn’t necessarily mean more lead roles for females, but it would create a diverse onscreen demography reflecting a population comprised of 50 percent women and girls.
This is the inevitable “what comes next” question: After McDormand’s urging, will her peers actually start insisting upon this kind of language in their contracts? And will audiences, in turn, begin to see the proportionate share of women and people of color, both on-screen and behind the camera, begin to rise?
At least there’s one statistic McDormand could get rising right away: Lookups for the words “inclusion” and “rider” on the Merriam-Webster website. “Inclusion” was the most-searched word of the night.