Fourteen Oscars ago, Michael Moore was criticized for using his “Bowling for Columbine” win to attack Dubya. Cut to 2017 and it’s almost a letdown when winners don’t take on the sitting president. In fact, most of them went high, not low, speaking about the importance of diversity and inclusivity. When they attacked Trump, they did it nudge-nudge-style, not saying his name.
Jimmy Kimmel didn't hold back, but after a while it seemed like his jokes about the "tragedies" in Sweden and such were his attempt to goad everyone into apolepsy. Most didn't bite. Hell, even Meryl Streep, brought up to present Best Cinematography to "La La Land," said nothing.
“Moonlight”’s Mahershala Ali, the first winner of the night, held back, using his win for Best Supporting Actor to thank everyone, tear up a bit and announce that his wife gave birth just four days prior. When Viola Davis took the stage an hour later, winning Best Supporting Actress for “Fences,” she gave one of her expected awesome speeches, talking about how art “exhumes and exhaults” ignored or forgotten voices. “I became an artist — and thank God I did — because we are the only profession that celebrates what it’s like to live a life.”
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The first wave of speakers led by positivity, offering an America that celebrates inclusivity by example, not mere lecturing. But of course, lecturing is important, too. The winning filmmakers for "The White Helmets," a look at civilians in Syria who come to aid after bombings that won Best Short Documentary, tried to get viewers to think about a war that has gone on for six years, with no end in sight. Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, while winning Best Adapted Screenplay for "Moonlight," talked about gender inclusivity and how you can come from a low-income part of America, as they did, and make it to the Oscar stage.
Before presenting the award that went to "Zootopia" — an animated smash that was a thinly veiled takedown of racial discrimination — Gael Garcia Bernal opened up. He said that actors are essentially "migrant workers," then added, "As a Mexican, as a Latin Americanm, a migrant worker, as a human being, I'm against any form of wall that wants to separate us."
The most forceful one was given by someone who wasn’t there. Asghar Farhadi, whose film “The Salesman” won for Best Foreign Language Film, was not in attendance, out of protest of the threatened “Muslim ban,” which previously banned the Iranian filmmaker from attending. He prepared a read statement, though.
“My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations that have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry in the U.S.,” it read. “Dividing the world into the ‘us and our enemies’ categories creates fear.” He added that movies, such as his own, helped “break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others — an empathy we need now today more than ever.”
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge