The Oscars kicked off with an immediate political dig, not at not President Donald Trump but at the Iowa Caucuses. A few mild smacks at the Senate impeachment trial and health care followed, but the night was decidedly apolitical, even with U.S. politics stormier than ever. Maybe everyone’s had it. Maybe Parasite won so many awards that it limited the potential opining.
“Now, a couple of years ago there was a big disaster here at the Oscars when they accidentally read the wrong name. And it was nobody’s fault. But it’s guaranteed that this will not happen this year because the Academy has switched to the new Iowa caucus app,” Steve Martin joked in the non-host opening monologue with Chris Rock. He was referring to 2017, when Warren Beatty mistakenly gave the Best Picture win to La La Land over Moonlight, and to the February 3 Democratic debacle in Iowa that still hasn’t announced a winner.
Martin quickly shushed Rock when his co-non-host mentioned the homeless problem in Los Angeles. “SO MANY STARS!” Martin shouted over him, gesturing at the audience.
Rock tried again. “Mahershala Ali is here. He has two Oscars. Do you know what that means when the cops pull him over? Nothing!”
Brad Pitt, winning for Actor in a Supporting Role, was the only one to call out impeachment, noting that the 45 seconds he was getting for his acceptance speech is “45 seconds more” than the Senate gave former National Security Advisor John Bolton to testify at Trump’s Senate trial. “I’m thinking maybe Quentin [Tarantino] does a movie about it, and in the end the adults do the right thing,” the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood actor said of his director.
Speaking backstage, when asked about his comments, Pitt said, “I was just really disappointed with this week. I think when gamesmanship trumps doing the right thing, it’s a sad day. I don’t think we should let it slide, and I’m really serious about that.”
Presenter Josh Gad was ready with a health-care jab via Frozen. “Canadian Elsa is basically the same but with health care,” the actor and voice of Olaf said.
Accepting for Best Documentary Oscar for American Factory, co-director Julia Reichert gave a shout out to workers. “Our film is from Ohio and China but really could be from anywhere that people put on a uniform and punch a clock trying to make their families have a better life. Working people have it harder and harder these days and we believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite.”
And toward the tail of the telecast, Joaquin Phoenix, Best Actor for Joker, talked about animal rights, humanity and the environment. “At times we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes,” he said.
Renee Zellweger, accepting the Best Actress statuette for Judy, hinted that Hollywood could help bring people together. “When we look to our heroes we agree, and that matters. Heroes unite and define us,” she said, mentioning Fred Rogers, Harriet Tubman and Judy Garland – all subjects of nominated biopics – and a handful of others from Venus and Serena Williams to Bob Dylan, soldiers, policemen and firefighters. “When we celebrate our heroes, we are reminded of who we are as one people united.”
That was about it. Nothing even remotely resembling Robert de Niro declaring “F*ck Trump” at the 2018 Tony Awards, or Meryl Streep slamming the then-President Elect as a “bully” at the 2017 Globes.
It goes to show, you never know. Sunday’s ceremony capped an ultra-fraught and weird several weeks in an already nasty political climate where Trump was acquitted in trial with no witnesses, publicly eviscerating political opponents and relieving three of them of their jobs on Friday. He also awarded Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom at his State of the Union address.
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The Golden Globes last month were more pointed, touching on the then escalating situation with the U.S. and Iran, the urgency of pro-choice politicians in office and the 2020 presidential election. Many speakers mentioned devastating fires in Australia fires and connected them to climate change.
The 2019 Academy Awards had a number pointed reference to Trump and his policies as celebs spoke out in defense of immigrants and against walls.
Ricky Gervais would be proud of the restraint tonight. When he returned as host of the Golden Globes last month he memorably reminded the audience, “If you win, come up, accept your little award tonight… thank your agent and your God, and f*ck off. No one cares about your views on politics or culture.”
Earlier today, Gervais goaded on Twitter: “”I can’t wait to hear all your inspirational speeches about equality, and it’s great that the 3 hours you’re here tonight is the only time your badly paid migrant house staff will get some time off to sleep this week.”
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