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The Oscars Roasts Itself as Presenters and Winners Get Political

Joaquin Phoenix wasn't the only Oscar winner to get political at Sunday night's ceremony.

Joaquin Phoenix - Lead Actor - Joker92nd Annual Academy Awards, Show, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Joaquin Phoenix

Rob Latour/Shutterstock

From a lack of diversity among the nominees themselves to government dysfunction on the national stage, Oscars presenters and awards winners didn’t shy away from the political during Sunday night’s ceremony. Everyone from Janelle Monáe to Natalie Portman to Brad Pitt weighed in on issues of the day, but it was Joaquin Phoenix who most perfectly captured the politics of Hollywood in one fell swoop during his acceptance speech for Best Actor for his “Joker” performance.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot of the distressing issues that we are facing collectively, and I think that at times we are made to feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality. I think that whether we’re talking about gender and equality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re taking about the fight against injustice. We’re talking about the fight against belief that one nation, one people, one race, gender, or one species has the right to dominate, control, exploit, or use another with impunity … a world view the belief that we’re the center of the universe,” he said. “Human beings, at our best, are so inventive and creative and genius and I think that when we use love and compassion as our guiding principles we can create develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and the environment.”

Janelle Monáe set the tenor of the evening with an opening musical number that included the line “the Oscars, it’s so white, it’s time to come alive,” and paid homage to films including “Dolemite is My Name,” the acclaimed comedy with a majority cast of people of color that was among those snubbed by the Academy this year.

The fact that only one acting nominee (out of 20) was a person of color (Best Actress nominee Cynthia Erivo for “Harriet”) and no women were nominated for Best Director has loomed large over this year’s awards season and took center stage on the night.

On the red carpet, Natalie Portman’s dress had the surnames of snubbed female directors embroidered in gold down the lapel: Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”), Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), Greta Gerwig “Little Women,” Mati Diop (“Atlantics”), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), Melina Matsoukas (“Queen and Slim”), Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”), and Celine Sciamma (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”).

Comedians Chris Rock and Steve Martin in their opening introduction to the ceremony offered this: “There’s something missing this year,” Rock began, before he and Martin in unison said: “vaginas.”

Even Josh Gad, who introduced a multi-lingual medley of “Into the Unknown” from “Frozen 2,” used the occasion to make jabs at the state of American un-excellence. The Queen Elsa known to English language audiences, Idina Menzel, was joined by singers who voiced the animated film’s main character around the world.

Gad remarked, “the Canadian Elsa is basically the same but with healthcare,” a reference to our northern neighbor’s universal healthcare system during a time that US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is running on a platform that calls for a system similar to that of Canada’s.

Gad offered another riff on the film’s title, “or as climate change deniers call it, ‘Non-Frozen 2′”

It’s easy to argue these issues — gender equity, representation, and climate change — are apolitical. But the fact remains that addressing each has seemed to be an insurmountable feat as progress has been either slow or nonexistent, whether it’s Hollywood elite or national policymakers.

After winning Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Marriage Story,” Laura Dern touched on the climate crisis during a question-and-answer period backstage.

“We have a planet to save, so I pray we can all come together to focus on something that isn’t all about politics — it’s about our home,” she said.

Other issues addressed Sunday are indisputably about politics. Brad Pitt in his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” slammed Senate Republicans refusal to allow former national security adviser John Bolton — or any witnesses — testify during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

“They told me I only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” Pitt said. “I’m thinking maybe Quentin does a movie about it, in the end the adults do the right thing.”

Backstage, Pitt clarified that he has been writing his own speeches this awards season, though he said he gets help from some “very funny friends.” He also elaborated on his Bolton comments.

“I was really disappointed with this week. I think when gamesmanship Trumps doing the right thing, it’s a sad day and I don’t think we should let it slide. I’m very serious about that,” he said.

The acceptance speech of Julia Reichert, the co-director of Best Documentary Feature “American Factory,” made headlines in the right-leaning “Washington Times,” which suggested a line in her speech championing labor organizing referenced the “Communist Manifesto.”

“Working people have it harder and harder these days,” she said. “We believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite.”

“Workers of the world, unite!” is among the socialist text’s most famous lines.

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