These were supposed to be the Academy Awards of Trump. These were supposed to be the Oscars where every joke, every speech, every absent nominee (except for Natalie Portman) was in reference to the two-bit reality television star who — despite claiming that he wouldn’t be tuning in — probably had a television installed in the Oval Office just so he could watch the broadcast. And, for almost four hours, they kind of were. And then someone handed Warren Beatty the wrong envelope and the night was given a Hollywood ending unlike anything we had ever seen.
But, as much as “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz’s urgent, eminently generous handoff of the Best Picture prize end up becoming the defining story, Trump still loomed over a large part of the evening. If anything, the mix-up spared him an additional burn after he had been charred by one celebrity after another. Surprisingly, however, the heat was more of a simmer than it was an eruption, as Meryl Streep didn’t win anything, and those who did chose to talk around POTUS rather than attacking him by name (Trump is a lot like Voldemort in that way).
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As at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday night, most of the skewering was reserved for the opening monologue. Host Jimmy Kimmel was clearly there to engineer a party rather than a rally (it’s telling that the show opened with Justin Timberlake performing “Can’t Stop the Feeling”), but the late-night talk show host didn’t let Trump completely off the hook. “I don’t want to get too serious,” he said as a disclaimer, after noting that the show was “Being watched around the world in more than 225 countries that now hate us.” Some of his other, more pointed jokes were similarly sharp. “I want to say thank you to President Trump,” Kimmel cracked. “I mean, remember last year when it seemed like The Oscars were racist?” Another good one: “We are very welcoming to outsiders in Hollywood — we don’t discriminate against them based on what country they come from, we discriminate against them based on their age and weight.”
Kimmel, unlike many previous hosts, popped up quite frequently throughout the show, resurfacing a few hours later to joke about Doctor Strange being named as Secretary of Urban Housing and Development, and for a very flat bit in which he tweeted at Trump live from the stage of the theater. But, of all the political remarks that he made, the most resonant one came towards the end of the opening segment, as the comedian went sincere for a second, and implored viewers to find some common ground. “If everyone took a minute to reach out to someone and have a positive conversation,” he said, “we could make America great again. We really could. It starts with us.”
And much of the show that followed was consumed with that spirit of solidarity, even if the generosity of that spirit may have rankled our country’s preeminent racist. The night began on a note of subtle inclusivity, as “Moonlight” breakout Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim to ever win an acting Oscar. “This is for all the immigrants,” said the team behind the makeup win for “Suicide Squad.” Presenter Gael García Bernal ad-libbed a great line about how, “As a Mexican, as a migrant worker, and as a human being I’m against any form of wall that wants to separate us,” and Best Adapted Screenplay winner Barry Jenkins gave a shoutout to America’s queer citizens and people of color, promising that “For the next four years, we will not forget you.” As at the Indie Spirits, many guests wore ACLU ribbons, including Best Actor winner Casey Affleck.
But the most direct attack of the night inarguably came from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who won Best Foreign Language Film for “The Salemsan.” Initially, when the Muslim ban was hastily whipped into law or something like that, Farhadi was not going to be able to attend. Circumstances changed in the days leading up to the ceremony, but Farhadi wasn’t going to chance it. Instead, he had Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian and first Muslim woman in space, and Firouz Naderi, a former NASA director, read out his pre-written statement: “My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans immigrants entry from the US. Dividing our world into the us vs them categories creates fear.”
So the night left everyone on the same page, stronger together, happy to celebrate their fellow artists and brace for the future united. And then, as we all had on our Bingo cards, Warren Beatty ruined everything. By the time the credits rolled on the wildest, most unpredictable Oscar broadcast in history, only one thing was clear: For a few minutes anyway, nobody was talking about Donald Trump.