By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Sometimes, there’s nothing like spending an evening with a bunch of guilty liberals.
Make that, guilty, extremely wealthy liberals.
And so it was at Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, when Hollywood bent over backwards to show how forward-thinking it is about issues like, oh, race and, well, diversity and, of course, minority representation and, oh, right, race.
Host Chris Rock plunged in immediately with a monologue that maintained an admirable balance between pointed jokes and good-natured joshing.
I especially liked the way he put things in perspective concerning the #OscarSoWhite. controversy. “This whole thing has happened at least 71 other times,” he reminded the audience. “1963, ’64. We had real things to protest. We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about Best Cinematographer.”
Then he ragged a little on Will Smith, (who should’ve been nominated for “Concussion”). Granting that his omission was not fair, Rock added, “It’s also not fair Will was paid $20 million for ‘The Wild Wild West.’”
Probably the dicey-ist moment in the opening monologue was when Rock compared the In Memoriam section to black people shot by cops. The aforementioned white wealthy liberals weren’t sure whether to applaud or laugh good-naturedly, as if they were in on the joke, or just sit there and hope the camera wasn’t on them.
Eventually, the show did get around to giving out some awards. The stand-up-and-cheer moment, for me, was when Mark Rylance won Best Supporting Actor for his role as a Russian spy in “Bridge of Spies.” The “smart” money had been on Sylvester Stallone — nostalgia and all that for his win 40 years ago for “Rocky.” But, because some of us still have institutional memory (even if we’ve lost the short-term equivalent), these are the movies “Rocky” beat out in 1976: “All the President’s Men,” “Bound for Glory” (David Carradine as Woody Guthrie), “Network,” and “Taxi Driver.”
Still feeling nostalgic?
Anyway, the show was too long (as usual), seemingly everyone had a cause to pump for (as usual) and nobody paid any attention to the big change the Academy had instituted so that the speeches could be more from the heart and less a list of agents, managers, studio execs, etc. The nominees were asked to submit names of those they wished to thank in advance, which would run as a scroll beneath them as they said something wonderful on the podium, Oscar in hand. Most of them thanked agents, managers, studio execs, etc. anyway.
What struck me most about this year’s Oscar was how well the host, presenters, winners, losers, everybody covered all the bases. I mean, not just the random Richard Gere lecture on the Dalai Lama, but the stuff that’s part and parcel of political discourse these days. The stuff that social media feeds on. There were shout-outs in support of rape survivors, in favor of LGBT rights, on the right side of global warming, advocating indigenous peoples, even a salute to Girl Scout cookies (and the Girl Scouts who sell them).
In fact, for me, that may have been the most pointed moment of the whole evening. Up on the stage were, oh, a dozen or so African-American girls proudly decked out in their uniforms. And the thought suddenly occurred: there were probably more of them than there were decent roles for African-American actresses last year.