Awards with a social conscience

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The Oscars this year rewarded cinematic excellence without prejudice, with fair representation in mind.

While Emma Stone won for her role in 'La La Land', Mahershala Ali, protagonist in 'Moonlight', became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar ever. | Reuters

The Oscars, this year, were like a politically correct movie. It was larger than life and statement-making with its choices. It restored the balance with fair representation and invested in the young.

It packed quite a few surprises with a big twist you couldn’t see coming right at the end. Since it was like a movie, I would give it three-and-a-half stars.

At the heart of the show was first-time presenter Jimmy Kimmel, who kept it simple and casual. While starting off misleadingly with a plea to unite the country, he went on to unite the world with Trump-trashing.

Kimmel ended his opening monologue with half a dozen Trump jokes ranging from a dig about “Make America Great Again” (“225 countries now hate us”) to “Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?” to channeling his inner-Trump to call out the “overrated” Meryl Streep and asking her if she was wearing Ivanka and mocking the “fake media” and hoping that Donald Trump would tweet about the show “in all caps during his 5 a.m. bowel movement”.

The Trump roast continued into the show when he wondered if all was OK with the American President since he hadn't tweeted about it. Kimmel then sent out a tweet to Trump (whom he does not follow on Twitter) that read like a booty text.

Larger than life

This is the biggest show about the movies in the world and hence, the Academy also decided to make it larger than life. The show started off with Justin Timberlake making the celebrities get up and dance. It rained candies and cookies. Yes, candies attached to little balloons were dropped down and cookies and doughnuts followed. An unsuspecting tour bus full of tourists got a surprise tour of the Oscars (they didn't look too surprised possibly because they might have seen it coming with an unusual waiting time) where Denzel Washington pronounced a couple man and wife, Jennifer Aniston gave away her shades, Ryan Gosling gave away his cookie bag and Mahershala Ali obliged some with a selfie.

The show ended with that comedy of errors. A mix-up about the Best Picture.

 

Politically correct

To make up for last year’s Oscar’s “whitewash” of black performers, this year Academy members went out of their way to ensure that not only did deserving people of colour get nominated, they also took home some of the biggest prizes of the night including Best Picture (Moonlight), Best Adapted Screenplay (Moonlight), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali, Moonlight), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Viola Davis, Fences), Best Documentary Feature (Ezra Edelman, O.J.: Made in America).

As La La Land peaked early and the hype turned to hate, thanks to the Academy getting carried away and nominating the film for 14 categories — up there along with Titanic and All About Eve — the members were more measured about voting for the winner. They just didn't want this to be yet another celebration of white stars. La La Land ended up with only five out of the 14 awards.

The members also voted for Asghar Farhadi’s weakest work The Salesman for Best Picture, as a strong reaction to Trump’s attempted travel ban.

 

Moonlight’s win was not just a reward for merit of the film but also a statement to the world that it believed in making amends and standing behind the marginalised in the Trump-era climate of hate crimes. Mahershala Ali, became the first Muslim actor to win an Academy award — Moonlight is a film about repressed gay angst that was also rewarded for Best Picture and Best Screenplay.

The fact that this independent film made with $1.5 million won Best Picture meant that many young filmmakers making small films would now dare to dream big.

Investing in the young

With young actors pitted against heavyweight veterans in the acting categories, the Academy members picked 28-year-old Emma Stone ahead of Isabelle Huppert who was equally good in Elle and 41-year-old Casey Affleck instead of Denzel Washington whose flawless powerhouse performance in Fences included a 14-page monologue.

They decided to reward the younger filmmakers, 32-year-old Damien Chazelle and 37-year-old Barry Jenkins over Mel Gibson who returned to form with a pacifist Hacksaw Ridge.

Ratings

The TV ratings fell only by four per cent this year (and by 13 per cent among 18-49) despite the fact that the show host went after Trump, the man half of America voted for. While early surveys suggested that Hollywood’s anti-Trump stance was likely to make his supporters turn off TV sets if any of the winners did a Meryl, the all-out roast didn't seem to affect viewership all that much.

This year’s edition has renewed our hope that the world’s biggest stage celebrating movies was moving in the right direction, celebrating strong independent content (Spotlight last year and Moonlight this year), pushing for inclusion with fair representation and not afraid to reward merit, be political and anti-establishment.

This is what all good art should strive for.

Well done, Academy.

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