by Julia Van Valkenburg, USC MISC Scholar
The 89th Academy Awards was political, entertaining, and for the most part well-executed, with the exception of the Best Picture blunder that will forever be remembered in Oscar history.
Diversity & Inclusion
While the past two Oscars have infamously been branded #OscarsSoWhite for their complete absence of diversity in the acting categories, this year’s ceremony indicates necessary progress. Not only were more people of color nominated for acting, but both Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali took home the Best Supporting Actress and Actor awards for their work in Fences and Moonlight respectively. While advances have been made in diversity and inclusion at the Academy Awards, AMPAS and the industry as a whole have a long way to go. It’s necessary to note that although this year’s awards show is an improvement from recent years, the lack of Asian and Latinx nominees in all categories is still glaringly problematic. Additionally, the scarcity of representation of women working behind the camera also necessitates vast improvement. This issue inspired the #AltOscarParty, in which many elected to watch films directed by women rather than tune into the Academy Awards.
Asghar Farhadi’s Win & Statement
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for The Salesman, elected not to attend the awards ceremony in support of the people of Iran and the six other Muslim-majority countries singled out by the president’s executive order on immigration. Prior to the awards ceremony, all five nominees of the Best Foreign Language Film award issued a joint statement condemning the regressive and divisive policies of the current administration, dedicating the award to “all the people, artists, journalists and activists who are working to foster unity and understanding, and who uphold freedom of expression and human dignity...”
Iranian-Americans Anousheh Ansari, an engineer and businesswoman, and Firouz Naderi, the former director of Solar Systems Exploration at NASA, accepted the Oscar on the behalf of Farhadi and read a statement from the filmmaker:
“It’s a great honor to be receiving this valuable award for the second time. I would like to thank the members of the academy, my crew in Iran, my producer, Amazon, and my fellow nominees. I’m sorry I’m not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations whom have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S. Dividing the world into the “us” and “our enemies” categories creates fear. A deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and them. An empathy which we need today more than ever.”
Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Inspiring Acceptance Speech
Winning Best Adapted Screenplay for Moonlight, Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney’s speech was a reminder of the power in seeing oneself reflected on-screen. Jenkins also noted the support of marginalized people by the American Civil Liberties Union, in addition to the Academy and the filmmaking community as a whole:
“All you people who feel like there’s no mirror for you, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back, and for the next four years, we will not forget you.” – Barry Jenkins
“This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender conforming who don’t see themselves. We’re trying to show you, and us. Thank you, thank you. This is for you.” – Tarell Alvin McCraney
The Best Picture Blunder
Hollywood icons Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty reunited on stage for the 50th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde (dir. Arthur Penn, 1967) to announce the Best Picture winner of the night. In a bizarre turn of events the award was mistakenly given to La La Land, despite actually belonging to Moonlight. After La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz graciously passed the award off to Barry Jenkins following the awkward mishap, Beatty took the mic to explain what had happened. Rather than receiving the envelope for Best Picture he was given the one for Best Actress (Emma Stone, La La Land) and, visibly confused, he handed it off to Dunaway who announced La La Land as the winner upon reading the film’s title. While the entire experience was unfortunate for the makers of both La La Land and Moonlight, the mutual respect and admiration shared between the filmmakers and casts resulted in a somewhat happy ending despite the disastrous incident.
In summation, the 89th Academy Awards was a night that honored a global community of filmmakers and fans, celebrating both artists and the power of media. Encouragingly, it seems that media in service of social change was well received this year. The 2017 Oscars hopefully signal a new turn in the Academy’s history, reflecting AMPAS’ concerted effort to honor works that challenge the status quo, while also working to create a more diverse and inclusive industry for all.