In her acceptance speech for best actress, Frances McDormand accomplished what the Academy failed to do in the broadcast of the 90th Oscar Awards: shine a light on the female artists in the building, for nothing but their artistry.
McDormand placed her statuette on the floor and asked every woman nominated for any award, in any category, to rise to her feet and be seen.
She then dropped two words: “inclusion rider.” What she’s referencing is a way for big stars to ensure diversity on set: They can simply contractually demand it. As viewers, we learned something, and we can look out for it next year.
But this year? Well just before McDormand brought a not-yet-equal proportion of the room to their feet with her speech, musician Common performed “Stand Up for Something” (from “Marshall,” with Andra Day) with some of the most important movement makers of this moment literally standing in the shadows.
Did you catch a glimpse of Janet Mock? Did you see Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood? If you don’t know Tarana Burke by face, you might not have known that the leader of the #MeToo movement herself was on the Oscars’ stage, which is a pretty big deal. But she wasn’t announced or given a podium of any kind. For viewers at home, there was no list of names and affiliations of those who had taken the stage. They were just standing there, voiceless and in the dark.
Lighting had already become an issue earlier in the night, when Sandra Bullock, the queen of charming banter, took to the stage to present the award for cinematography. Her scripted moment of solo repartee was about wishing she could look younger.
“The lighting is really well lit,” she said, “but can we just dim it just a little bit so I can go back to my 40s?” Then, the lights actually dimmed and she did the rest of her talking from the shadows.
Let’s clear this up: Ageist jokes are sexist jokes. When Christopher Walken jangled his bones onstage, his cue cards didn’t make any mention of the effects of time on his face or hair. And since showrunners can’t course correct based on Twitter reactions to one sexist joke, it was too late to scratch out Jane Fonda’s line that would come later, when she joined Helen Mirren to present the award for best actor. Mirren said she and Jane were honored to present at “Oscar’s 90th birthday,” to which Fonda responded, “Especially when we found out he’s older than we are.”
This year, we got a “Wonder Woman” and a “Lady Bird” and a “Three Billboards,” but when an 80-year-old film icon who’s been an outspoken advocate on progressive issues for much of her prolific career has to use her time to make fun of her age, it’s hard to believe we’ve moved very far at all.
But, progress is slow. It takes small steps. And there were some such steps throughout the Oscars in terms of representation, elevating marginalized voices, and acknowledging the elephant in L.A., which is its absolute garbage treatment of women.
From scripted moments to winning speeches and presenters, below are nine moments to help you walk away from the 90th Academy Awards feeling like, okay, well, they tried.
1. Host Jimmy Kimmel immediately brought up Harvey Weinstein in his opening monologue. “The Academy, as you are no doubt aware, took action last year to expel Harvey Weinstein from their ranks. There were a lot of great nominees, but Harvey deserved it the most.” To me, ever would be too soon to joke about Harvey Weinstein. This follow-up joke felt a little more comfortable: “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.”
2. Emma Stone went off-script to introduce the nominees for best director by saying, “these four men and Greta Gerwig.” Gerwig was the first female director nominated in eight years.
3. The best original song category had an even gender representation among its nominees, and when Kristen Anderson-Lopez accepted the award for “Remember Me” (together with her husband and writing partner, Robert Lopez), she said: “When you look at a category like ours, it helps to imagine a world where all the categories look like this one.” Representation was a theme throughout the night.
4. Also in his opening monologue, Kimmel suggested that winners use their speaking time to make a difference: “You have an opportunity and a platform to remind millions of people about important things like equal rights and equal treatment. If you want to encourage others to join the amazing students at Parkland at their march on the 24th, do that,” he said.
5. Cecile Richards, Tarana Burke and Janet Mock were joined in Common’s backlighting by Dolores Huerta (of United Farm Workers of America), Nicole Hockley (of Sandy Hook Promise), Patrisse Cullors (from Black Lives Matter), Alice Brown Otter (of the Standing Rock Youth Council), and author and Syrian refugee Bana Alabed. An incredible amount of activist power, to be sure, but their presence felt like stage decor, which was a crushing use of such impactful voices.
6. Then there was the “Representation Matters” montage. A standout moment was Kumail Nanjani explaining how representation works (he loves, watches and relates to white-male movies all the time; they can watch him for a change). But in a broadcast loaded with filler (the trip to a movie theater to give mere mortals a look at Gal Gadot in a glitter gown, for example), this was not the place to skimp on time. The montage felt forced and very superficial.
7. Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek, and Annabella Sciorra, three leaders of #TimesUp, introduced that montage. Their presence together spoke volumes, but it would’ve been nice to hear some more actual renunciations of systemic abuses in Hollywood, and for this to come from anyone other than the very survivors of that abuse.
8. “A Fantastic Woman” took home the Oscar for foreign language film, starring trans actress Daniela Vega, who also served as a presenter, in a two-for-one watershed moment for transgender visibility.
9. Similarly, “Coco” won for best animated feature film, signaling the box office power of uplifting the Latino community. Winners like this showed that representation matters, and it is mattering in present tense to viewers and box offices, alike, something Kimmel also called out in his monologue: “’Black Panther’ and ‘Wonder Woman’ are — were massive hits, which is almost miraculous because I remember a time when the major studios didn’t believe a woman or a minority could open a superhero movie. And the reason I remember that time was because it was March of last year.”