My qualifications for reviewing the ceremony known to one and all as The Oscars are about on a par with those of Donald Trump for pretending to be president of the United States.
In a word: none.
Moreover, I have to state up front (as usual) that I have not seen any of the nominated films. In most cases I have never heard of the director or, in an increasing number of cases, the actors. There wasn’t even a Lifetime Achievement award, which at least ensures that there is someone on stage that I recognise. Has Kirk Douglas, recently turned one hundred, been up there yet?
Still, I have to say that it is harmless fun, once a year, to watch the Academy of Something-or-Other trying to put on a show that will reflect favourably on the social conscience of the industry. It gets a little harder each year, the voters having to pick from a steadily shrinking number of eligible films a few that might one day be classified as socially significant. (I get round to seeing them months, sometimes years, later on television, and am more often than not disappointed.) Some, I have to admit, are artistically worthy, now apparently a secondary consideration.
This was the year when the presenters and recipients were supposed to take the figurative gloves off in lampooning our new president, taking their cue from Meryl Streep’s jibe at an earlier awards ceremony; I forget which one. Not that it matters, since pretty soon there will be more award ceremonies than films.
In the event, there was little in the way of anti-Trump rhetoric. The most prominent came from an Iranian-American director who won a minor award but stayed away to protest, in a statement read out for him, the administration’s travel ban on seven Muslim countries. The host, Jimmy Kimmel, normally in charge of a television talk-show, opened proceedings with a gentle aside: “Remember last year,” he quipped, “when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?”
Whether the Iranian-American gentleman is a Muslim or not I have not seen mentioned, but the One True Faith was represented on stage by the first Muslim actor in the Academy’s history to win an award – one Mahershala Ali, for best supporting actor in a film called Moonlight, of which more anon. It seems reasonable, in light of this, that the Academy of Something-or-Other should ensure that other prominent world religions be given equal time.
Come to think of it, they may have been represented. I seem to remember Richard Gere, a Buddhist of some kind, winning an award, and Tom Cruise or John Travolta probably thanked Scientology for inspiring them to win. Even so, I think I’m entitled to look forward to the first winner from the Mormon or Hindu communities. Nor should atheist or humanist candidates be overlooked.
If religion did well, then, ethnicity did even better.
Last year the Academy was accused of racism because not a single black person won anything. This year, black people were everywhere, and winning all kinds of stuff. The aforementioned Moonlight was directed by a black man, Barry Jenkins, and boasted an all-black cast. One of them played a gay man, so homophobia was put to rest along with racism. Best supporting actress – or if you prefer female actor – went to a black woman, Viola Davis, for her role in Fences, which has a black theme.
So the Academy has finally roused itself, as Spike Lee might have put it, to Do The Right Thing.
The only glitch in this orgy of racial and social self-righteousness was that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway – Bonnie and Clyde in an earlier era – were given the wrong envelope from which to announce the Oscar-winning film. No sooner had poor old Faye mentioned the erroneous name than the stage was invaded by apologists, including officials of Price Waterhouse Cooper, the guardians of the envelopes. Heads there will no doubt roll.
Naturally, the show-biz media went to town on this faux pas, pushing the Academy’s hard-fought social revolution into the background.
Sometimes, Hollywood just can’t win.