For a year with no female talent represented in the director’s category and only three of the nine best-picture candidates featuring women in lead roles, the Oscar show was a regular femme fest. And not just because host Ellen DeGeneres brought a welcome chummy intimacy — as well as a mid-show pizza delivery — to her interaction with the overdressed stars in attendance. Or that Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a vision in silver as the first female African American President of the Academy, did a fine job during her inaugural explanatory segment.
For one thing, the contributions of mothers were copiously acknowledged on stage. They earned many more speech mentions than dads or even God, who did get a shout-out from best actor Matthew McConaughey of Dallas Buyers Club. Not that he forgot to make sure to pay respect to the woman who gave him birth as she cheered him on from the crowd.
Co-star and best supporting actor Jared Leto also singled out his mother, a high-school dropout who raised him and his brother alone, as his inspiration. On tape, Angelina Jolie thanked her late mother and tearfully hoped that her daughter’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award would have made her proud.
As for 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, he thanked his “mum” in his best-picture speech for her hard-headedness as she took an enthusiastic bow from the back row of the Dolby Theatre. Even Judy Garland’s kids — Liza Minnelli as well as Lorna and Joey Luft — held an on-air reunion in their mother’s honor during a tribute to the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.
If that weren’t enough, a load of talented women made the 86th Academy Awards ceremony something to sing about. Superstar back-up performer Darlene Love broke out into a gospel wail in honor of 20 Feet From Stardom’s win for best documentary and earned a spontaneous standing ovation from the likes of Bill Murray. Karen O lent her delicate hipster lilt to “The Moon Song”, her nominated tune from Her.
Broadway idol Idina Menzel blew the roof off the place with her rendition of “Let It Go,” the winning song from Frozen. Bette Midler proved divine as ever while performing “The Wind Beneath My Wings” after a moving In Memoriam. And Pink, in an appropriately red dress, captured the wistful heartache of “Over the Rainbow” in her own unique way.
Yes, the segments honoring movie heroes tended to be light on movie clips featuring women. Although Whoopi Goldberg somewhat made up for that oversight as she flashed a pair of bedazzled ruby slippers that seemed to hail from the disco ’70s era during her intro for the Oz segment while observing, “Not all heroes don capes and a mask.” That was followed by DeGeneres returning to the stage in full Glinda the Good Witch regalia.
But the best pro-female moment of the entire three-hour-plus enterprise came courtesy of Cate Blanchett, best actress for Blue Jasmine. First, she swiftly addressed one of the biggest question marks hanging over the night: Would she publicly thank her director Woody Allen following the resurfacing of 20-year-old allegations of sexual abuse by his adopted daughter with Mia Farrow? The answer: She mentioned him without hesitation and expressed deep gratitude for writing the script and giving her the opportunity to play the role. What was truly noteworthy, however, was her admiring comments about the impressive work done by her fellow nominees in her category and that Blue Jasmine and other movies about women did quite well at the box office last year.
“Those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women are niche experiences — they are not,” Blanchett said. “Audiences went to them and, in fact, they made money.” She then proclaimed, just to make sure they got the point: “The world is round, people!”
Other notable womanly moments:
— Jared Leto became the first man to win an acting award as a transgender female character. Hilary Swank won a lead actress Oscar as a girl passing as a male in 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry.
— Frozen’s Jennifer Lee – who shared directing duties with Chris Buck – is the first female helmer of a full-length film from Walt Disney Animation Studios to win an Oscar. Frozen, a fairy-tale musical about sisterly love, is also the first Disney release to triumph in the feature animation category since it began in 2001.
— Besides 20 Feet From Stardom, which shines a spotlight on primarily female backup singers, as best documentary, the prize for best documentary short went to The Lady in No. 6: Music Saved My Life. A moist-eyed director Malcolm Clarke praised his inspiring subject — classical pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, thought to be the oldest Holocaust survivor who died at age 110 on Feb. 23 – for her capacity for joy and, especially, for forgiveness.
— Lupita Nyong’o from 12 Years a Slave is the sixth supporting actress to win for her feature-film debut (Jennifer Hudson of 2006’s Dreamgirls was the last newcomer to take the trophy) and is the sixth black actress – and the fourth in the past seven years – to take home a supporting Oscar. Born in Mexico and of Kenyan descent, a jubilant Nyong’o ended her eloquent thank-you remarks with this advice: “Not matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”
— Catherine Martin, Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s better half, was the only female winner to take the gold twice on Sunday night. Her work on her husband’s The Great Gatsby earned her both costume and production design Oscars.
— The husband-and-wife team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez collected best song honors for “Let It Go”, the be-yourself power ballad from Frozen. They had this message to share with their daughters, who both did voice work for the animated film: “Never let fear or shame keep you from celebrating the unique people you are.”
This is the final “The Big O” column for the year. I have greatly enjoyed having this forum to write about the Oscar race from a rare female perspective and hope that Women and Hollywood readers did, too.