By Tasha Saint-Louis
The most star-studded event of the season, the 2017 Oscars, left viewers on the edge of their seats from the speeches changeling American politics, protests regarding social injustice and historic wins for actors and directors of color.
Hosted by late-night T.V. personality Jimmy Kimmel, the 89th Annual Academy Awards proved to be ‘wild from start to finish.’
The ceremony opened with an energetic performance of “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake, which was nominated for best song.
Afterwards, Kimmel took to the stage for his monologue. In his opening monologue, Kimmel asked those watching to reach out to those they disagree with, prompted a standing ovation for Meryl Streep, and predicted Trump’s rebuttals to the Oscar’s will occur during his “5 a.m. bowel movement.”
In comparison to last year, the Oscar’s had a diverse range of nominees for nearly all the categories—a refreshing sight for viewers of color.
Even more refreshing was witnessing the first Academy Award presented go to Mahershala Ali for best supporting actor, the first Muslim to win an Oscar, for MoonLight—an amazing accomplishment for Muslim Americans in Trump’s America. Ali beat out Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Dev Patel (Lion), and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) for the award.
The next win for people of color came after Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer from the box office hit Hidden Figures took to the stage to present the award for best documentary. They brought out a surprise for viewers as former NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, portrayed by Henson, made an appearance at 98 years old that stole the hearts of viewers.
Films nominated in the category included O.J.: Made in America, 13th, I Am Not Your Negro, Fire at Sea, and Life, Animated—four of them directed by African-Americans.
O.J.: Made in America ended up winning, making history as the longest film at 437minutes to win the Oscar. In his acceptance speech, director Ezra Edelman made a bold move as he dedicated the win to “victims of police violence, police brutality, racially motivated violence and criminal injustice.” said Edelman.
Shortly after, history was made once again by Viola Davis. Davis won the Oscar for best supporting actress in Fences, becoming the first African-American actress to win an Emmy, Tony, and Oscar. Her acceptance speech was heartfelt as she prompted Hollywood to “exhume…the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition.”
The next stirring moment for people of color occurred when Iran’s “The Salesman” won the Oscar for best foreign film. Instead of an acceptance speech, a statement from the director, Asghar Farhadi, was read by a prominent Iranian American. The bulk of his statement was in opposition of President Trump’s travel ban—the reason he was not in attendance of the award ceremony.
Criticisms of Trump continued as Hailee Steinfeld alongside Mexican actor and activist Gael García Bernal presented the nominees and award for best animated film. Preceding the list of nominees, Bernal took an opportunity to strongly oppose Trump’s “wall” stating, “As a Mexican, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I’m against any form of wall that separates us.” As for the award, Zootopia ended up taking the win—an important moment for the film as a progressive take on the nation’s social injustices.
The topic of social injustice continued throughout the evening, the next victory for people of color came from the documentary short The White Helmet, a film about Syrian first-responders.
This win speaks volumes in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis that has been a global issue for the past 6 years. The cinematographer, Khaled Khateeb, was unable to attend the ceremony because he was blocked entrance into the country and asked the director Orlando von Einsiedel to read a statement on his behalf. In the statement, Khateeb quoted a verse from the Quran, “to save one life is to save all of humanity.”
Next to win were African-American screenwriter Barry Jenkins and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney for best adapted screenplay for Moonlight. In his acceptance speech, McCraney dedicated his Oscar to “all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming who don’t see themselves.” said by McCraney. Many were rooting for this film not just for its Afro-centricity but for it’s simple yet realistic portrayal of a young Black gay man coming of age. So, when the biggest award of the night, best motion picture, was to be announced, viewers hoped and prayed that the film would win, only to be disappointed—for two minutes.
As respected actors Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway went on to present the Oscar for best motion picture after the nominees were listed, there seemed to be some confusion. Audience members laughed as Beatty hesitated after opening the envelope only to stare at Dunaway. After hearing nothing from Beatty, Dunaway took upon herself to announce the winner: La La Land. The crowd applauded as the cast made their way to the stage and began their acceptance speeches only to be interrupted by Kimmel and Beatty.
Almost immediately, the mishap was likened Steve Harvey’s own blunder at the Miss Universe Pageant in 2015.
The cast of La La Land immediately retracted and helped to correct the mistake, “This is not a joke…”, said Jordan Horowitz, producer. Horowitz grabbed the correct envelope and revealed to the audience that Moonlight was the actual winner. Warren Beatty then shared that he read the wrong envelope which had Emma Stone listed as a winner for La La Land.
The cast of Moonlight made their way to the stage in complete shock, hugging the cast of La La Land as they left the stage. It was a memorable way to end the night that showed the humility and comradery uncommonly seen among filmmakers. Jordan Horowitz was ‘proud’ to hand the award to Jenkins who in turn said in his acceptance speech, “My love to La La Land, my love to everybody.”