At the outset of this year’s very unusual Oscarcast, Regina King noted the Derek Chauvin verdict this past week, telling viewers, “If things had gone differently this week in Minneapolis, I may have had to trade in my heels for marching boots.”
Then, she added, “I know that a lot of you at home want to reach for your remote when you feel like Hollywood is preaching to you, but as a mother of a Black son, I know the fear that so many live with and no amount of fame or fortune changes that.”
Her remark was an acknowledgement that a share of the audience does tune out if they believe Hollywood is trying to send a message, but her status doesn’t shield her from worries shared by other Black parents.
It also was a signal that the Oscars were not going to ignore what’s been happening on the streets, with the country going through a political, societal and cultural racial reckoning.
Inspiring speeches were the standout moments of the more intimate Union Station setting. But with the turbulence of the past year and the lineup of this year’s nominees, other figures had much more to say about the police shootings of Black men and women.
Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe, co-directors of the Oscar-winning short film Two Distant Strangers, wore jackets that included the names of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others killed by police officers, a theme of their project.
Free said, “Today, the police will kill three people, and tomorrow the police will kill three people, and the day after that, the police will kill three people, because on average, every day, the police kill three people, which amounts to about a thousand people a year, and those people happen to be disproportionately Black people.
“James Baldwin once said, ‘The most despicable thing a person can be is to be indifferent to other people’s pain,'” he added. “And so I just ask that you please not be indifferent.”
Never one to pass up a moment for cultural polarization, Fox News quickly seized on the comments, headlining its FoxNews.com Oscar story with, “‘Police Kill’: Rich Hollywood elite turns Oscars into far-left hate speech targeting cops and it doesn’t stop there.” Below it was a sidebar of “The Oscars attendees going maskless.”
Politics of the Oscars is hardly a new phenomenon, stretching back at least 50 years, but now they are part of the equation, especially given the topical nature of so many of the nominees. The winners for animated short If Anything Happens I Love You, which delves into the grief of parents following school shootings, dedicated their Oscar to the victims of gun violence.
“There is nothing more tragic than losing a child, which is one reason school shootings are so heartbreaking,” former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose Everytown for Gun Safety supported the project, wrote after their win.
With more time given for acceptance speeches, winners did have more time for political statements, but they also had more of an opportunity to tell their own backstories, as a goal of producers was to showcase a diversity of backgrounds and that the industry was hardly rooted in the red carpet.
It didn’t always work, as many winners merely went down the list of those to thank. Others, though, also took the opportunity to express unifying words of reconciliation. Chloe Zhao, only the second woman to win best director, for Nomadland, recalled a game she would play with her father, reciting classic Chinese poems. A favorite was the phrase, “People at birth are entirely good.”
“This is for anyone who has the faith and courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves and to hold onto the goodness in each other,” she said.
Later, Tyler Perry, winner of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, devoted a large portion of his speech to the simple message, “Refuse hate.”
“Don’t hate anybody,” he said. “I refuse to hate someone because they are Mexican. Or because they are Black. Or white. Or LGBTQ. I refuse to hate someone because they are a police officer. I refuse to hate someone because they are Asian. I would hope that we would refuse hate. And I want to take this Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and dedicate it to anyone who wants to stand in the middle, not what’s around the walls, stand in the middle, because that is where healing happens, that is where conversation happens, that is where change happens. It happens in the middle.”