President Donald Trump was 3,000 miles away from the Academy Awards on Sunday night, but his presence loomed larger in the Dolby Theater than anyone else in the room. From Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue to the acceptance speeches and announcements that punctuate the ceremony, it sometimes seemed like the Oscars were more focused on delivering an extremely public rebuke to Trump than celebrating the art of filmmaking.
The question is how effective are these forms of protest, in a media environment where more than half of Americans think the press is too critical of the current president. Kimmel was one of the few personalities in the room to mention Trump; others largely chose to sub-tweet, without saying his name. While the comments about the president and his fixation on Twitter came easily, the most cutting and memorable moments of the night were the ones that chose to show, not tell, to reveal how Trump’s policies directly opposed the spirit of the art. usually. and the cinema in particular.
Trump was an irresistible target for Kimmel, who attacked the Oscars host from the start. “This broadcast is being watched live by millions of Americans,” he joked, “and around the world in over 225 countries who now hate us.” It was briefly serious, forcing all viewers to reach out to a person they disagreed with and have “a thoughtful, positive conversation, not as liberals or conservatives,” something he claimed could really bring America back to life. be big. But then everything went back to normal: thanking Homeland Security for letting French actress Isabelle Huppert into the country, pointing to Andrew Garfield’s drastic weight loss for a role as proof that Hollywood doesn’t discriminate on nationality, but on age and the weight. An extended gag lampooning Meryl Streep’s “uninspiring and overrated performances” seemed ripped straight from Trump. own criticism of the actress after the Golden Globes.
The second prize presented, for makeup and hair, went to Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson for Suicide Squad. “I am an immigrant. I come from Italy”, said Bertolazzi when accepting the award. “I work all over the world and this is for all immigrants.” His sentiments were echoed in more specific terms by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who won the award for best foreign language film for The seller, but chose not to attend the ceremony in protest of Trump’s immigration ban on seven Muslim-majority countries. His award was accepted by Iranian American astronaut Anousheh Ansari, who read Farhadi’s statement aloud. “Divide the world into U.S other our enemies categories creates fears,” it read, and Farhadi called the immigration law “inhumane” earlier this year. “Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy that we need today more than ever”.
An anchor also used the opportunity to put a human face on Trump’s policies. Actor Gael García Bernal, co-presenter of the award for best animated film, slipped into a quick statement, saying: “As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I am against any form of wall that separates us.” And last year’s winner for best supporting actor, Mark Rylance, briefly reflected on how actors and filmmakers could work to bring Americans together. “The opposition is great in movies and stories, it’s wonderful in sports, it’s really good in society,” he said. “What these movies made me remember and think about was the difficulty, something that women seem to be better at than men, to oppose without hate.”
But Kimmel’s jokes about Trump never dried up. the marvel movie doctor strange not only was he nominated for visual effects, he was also “appointed secretary of housing and urban development.” Introducing Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Kimmel noted how refreshing it was to have “a president who believes in the arts and sciences.” At one point, noting Trump’s silence on Twitter during the ceremony, Kimmel projected his phone onto a screen at the back of the stage and tweeted, “Hey @RealDonaldTrump are you awake?” to the president, followed by the hashtag “#merylsayshi.”
This was expert-level trolling, with the sole purpose of belittling Trump and reminding him that he is more discredited than ever in Hollywood. He’s cathartic, perhaps, but he comes from a place of power: There’s not much the president can do that directly threatens the film industry. But he can, for example, defund the NEA, which has a long history of helping projects (like the 2012 drama Savage South beasts) and artists who later rise to the glory of the Academy. Pointing out the president’s personal failings will almost certainly lead to viral tweetbut pointing out how his policies harm the arts and entertainment industries could have a deeper long-term impact.
The most powerful moments of the ceremony, in the end, were those that illuminated the people excluded by the president’s policies. Accepting the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Moonlight, Barry Jenkins, also a best picture winner, had a message for the people the movie was made for. “For all the people who feel like there’s no mirror for you,” he said, “who feel like your life isn’t reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back, and for the next four years… . We will not forget you”. In one of the most notable Oscar acceptance speeches of all time, Viola Davis explained her mission to make art. “You know, there is one place where all the people with the greatest potential gather and that is the cemetery,” she said. “People ask me all the time—What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say exhume those bodies. Dig up those stories, the stories of people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams come to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.”
It is this type of message that seems poised to have the biggest impact over the next four years. For one thing, President Trump, for once, seemed remarkably resistant to all the trolling happenings on stage. “Some of you will be able to come up here on this stage tonight and give a speech that the President of the United States will tweet about in all caps during his bowel movement at 5am tomorrow,” Kimmel said at one point. However, until now there has been there is no such answer.