By Claire Alongi
Last year the 89th annual Academy Awards went out with a bang in a flurry of confusion after “La La Land” was mistakenly announced the Best Picture winner. Producer Justin Horowitz infamously took to the mic to proclaim the correct recipient, and the world as well as Hollywood’s elite picked their jaws up off the floor to watch underdog “Moonlight” take home the biggest award of the night. And this was already after several hours of politically charged jokes, jabs at the Academy and the new President Elect Donald Trump.
By comparison, the 90th Oscars ceremony that took place last Sunday felt a bit like a gentle picnic in the park where the most upsetting thing might have been that someone forgot extra ice for the sodas. Oh well. Life goes on.
Except perhaps it shouldn’t. The Oscars had a lot to work with: first year with Trump, the ousting of Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo and #TimesUp. It also had a historically diverse set of nominees across genders and ages.
Yet, everything felt guarded. Jimmy Kimmel came out and did a classic run of opening jokes where he did admittedly take a few jabs at the recent outpouring of long repressed sexual assault allegations against men in Hollywood. It felt amusing but oddly without the bite that had been present for similar quips made at earlier awards shows, especially when Kimmel made a crack about calling for winners taking time to talk about equality as long as their speeches weren’t too long.
It seemed like something had to give, but the night proceeded as if everyone had been given some kind of gag order, or at the very least gloss-over order, except perhaps Frances McDormand. McDormand’s impassioned speech for inclusion riders and shout outs to women nominees was certainly an exception over the course of the night, not the rule. Even Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani’s brief moment of advocacy for DREAMers was sweet but lacked vitriol.
And while there were a few pleasantly shocking wins, the biggest being Jordan Peele winning Best Original Screenplay for “Get Out,” the winners were mostly expected. Not to say those winners were undeserving, just everything felt…safe.
It was as if Hollywood had retreated into the remnants of the bubble that had been burst months ago. There was no cry to wear black to the ceremony, no talks of boycott.
Has Hollywood had it’s outcry, and is now ready to move on?
Keeping up the fiery momentum of a movement is hard, but to see it peter out or at least lie down for a while, especially on the biggest awards night of the year, was unexpected and frankly disappointing.
It was exciting to see the people of Hollywood, and women within the film industry in particular, standing up to years of misogyny and put downs, as well as lacks of diversity and lower pay. It felt like something might change, and if the snowball could start rolling in the hot and sunny high-powered Hollywood Hills then maybe it could roll and roll until it had an impact elsewhere.
But after the Oscars that seems slightly more uncertain. Perhaps it was just the stars wanting to take a night off and enjoy the prestigious golden statues simply as the awards they are. One can hope it’s that, and not complacency creeping back into the system. Only time will tell.