By Steve Gorman
entLOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel on Sunday led a star-studded tribute to Hollywood's best in honoring the campaign against sexual misconduct and breakthroughs in racial and ethnic diversity beginning to transform the movie business.
The live telecast, which ran for nearly four hours, built on the socially conscious thrust that has marked Oscar night during the past few years, transforming the 90th edition of the glittering awards show into a conversation about sexual politics and inclusion.
In his opening monologue, Kimmel skewered the class of powerful men who prayed on women with a sight gag focused on a larger-than-life Oscar statue on stage, noting the male sculpture's anatomically simplified lack of genitalia.
"He is literally a statue of limitations. And that’s the kind of man we need more of in this town," he said, drawing uproarious laughter from the Dolby Theatre's audience of film luminaries.
The joke helped break the looming tension from a torrent of sexual misconduct allegations that have roiled the film industry since legions of mostly female victims broke their silence in recent months to shed light on long-cloaked abuses of power and gender bias.
Kimmel also called out Harvey Weinstein, the onetime Hollywood titan whose fall from grace helped give rise to the #MeToo social media movement, which galvanized accusers of privileged men in media, politics and other walks of American life, and the Time's Up campaign for greater equality.
Weinstein, who has denied ever having nonconsensual sex with anyone, was expelled last year from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences after dozens of women accused him of a range of sexual misbehavior, including rape.
"There were a lot of great nominees, but Harvey deserved it the most," Kimmel said of the expulsion.
Kimmel also addressed the widely reported disparity in pay received by actor Mark Wahlberg and actress Michelle Williams for reshooting scenes in the kidnapping drama "All the Money in the World," but he drew laughs by making Hollywood agents the butt of his joke. Both performers were represented by the same agent, he noted, adding, "if we can't trust agents, who can we trust?"
That gag, like the tone of the show's social commentary as a whole, felt more restrained than the pointed, angry jabs about gender bias and sexual peccadilloes that marked much of the Golden Globes telecast in January.
The centerpiece for Oscar recognition of activism came midway through the show, as three actresses who were among Weinstein's accusers - Annabella Sciorra, Ashley Judd and Salma Hayek - introduced a montage of film clips and celebrity interviews paying tribute to diversity of all kinds.
The segment saluted breakthroughs of women and people of color behind and in front of the camera, citing the critical and commercial success of such works as the blockbuster Marvel superhero film "Black Panther," featuring a predominantly African-American cast.
Kumail Nanjiani, the Pakistani-American star and co-writer of popular comedy "The Big Sick," urged filmmakers in one taped message to strive for greater inclusion not just because doing so was the right thing to do.
“Do it because you get rich,” he added.
In a similar vein, rap artist Common and singer Andra Day brought the leaders of various activist movements, including #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, onstage for a performance of the Oscar-nominated song "Stand Up for Something."
But in an apparent nod to some more conservative TV viewers, the ceremony also honored men and women of the U.S. military with a medley of Hollywood war film highlights introduced by Native American actor Wes Studi, a Vietnam War veteran who has appeared in several Oscar-nominated films.
The night ended on an emotional high as Frances McDormand, the night's best actress winner for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," capped her acceptance speech by asking all the women in the hall who had been Oscar-nominated to stand, drawing rousing applause.
Mexican director Guillermo del Toro then used his speech to accept the best picture award for "The Shape of Water," a romantic fable about society's treatment of outcasts, by inviting young filmmakers to kick open the door of the film industry and "come in."
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Henderson and Jonathan Oatis)