At Sunday night's Oscars, the Academy awarded former NBA star Kobe Bryant for his work as the writer and star of the animated short Dear Basketball. His win earned cheers from the audience, and backstage, everyone from Woody Harrelson to Mary J. Blige generously offered up their praise and congratulations. What seemed to have been forgotten by Hollywood and the Academy itself is on important fact: In 2003, Bryant settled a sexual assault case out of court. That’s right: In the first-ever Oscars in the year of Time’s Up, an accused rapist walked away with a little gold man.
The entertainment industry has been turned upside down since last year's Academy Awards. Dozens of sexual assault and harassment allegations against one of film industry's most powerful men, Harvey Weinstein, inspired women to band together and let their voices be heard through the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. With the 90th annual Academy Awards being the first since numerous powerful men across many industries were cut down for their heinous actions — the result of brave survivors coming forward and sharing their stories — expectations for the awards show were high.
Unfortunately, the show failed to live up to those expectations. In fact, during a pivotal moment in Hollywood history, the Oscars missed a major opportunity to make any real kind of statement — to take a stand and help enact change that will make the film industry both more diverse and equitable.
There were several issues, but perhaps the most glaring was the show's host: Jimmy Kimmel, a white man, was the first person to give a voice to the Oscars in the wake of a major women's movement. Of course, Kimmel had been confirmed to host long before the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements took off. But in the wake of everything that has happened, if replacing Kimmel all together wasn't an option, perhaps ABC might have searched for another solution, like adding a woman co-host or having him alternate with a buzzy female name like Tiffany Haddish.
Kimmel himself, even, might have taken a stand and considered forgoing his reported $15,000 salary for the gig to offer up his spot to a woman instead. That wasn't likely, though, given that before even taking the stage, he told Good Morning America that the show is not "about reliving people's sexual assaults." And Channing Dungey, ABC's president of entertainment, told the New York Times that, “[W]e certainly want to honor and respect Time’s Up and allow that message to be heard...But we’re trying to make it more planned than spur of the moment — it has its moment and then doesn’t feel like it overshadows the artists and films being honored.” Dungey has a point that dealing with women's rights is not a topic to be considered lightly. And no, Kimmel, hosting the Oscars should not have been about reliving people's sexual assaults. But the Oscars could have focused more on women, inspiration, and progress. 2018 was not the year to play it safe.
In addition to the irony that a white man was hosting the first-ever Oscars to take place after the women-led #MeToo movement, Kimmel was also just (unsurprisingly, again) a mediocre host. After giving the required "We can’t let bad behaviour slide anymore," line in his opening and a flat joke about how the Oscar statue keeps his hands where they belong, the rest of the show was filled with yet more stale food delivery stunts and an ongoing bizarre The Price Is Right joke about a jet ski. Sure, he's got some women on his team — including his executive producer, as well as his wife, Molly McNearney, the show's head writer — but the person with the marquee job was still...a white man who was more excited about a jet ski than speaking up about the movie industry's current woman crisis.
Then there were the night's actual winners, the majority of which were, predictably, older white men. And the problem isn't even just about men versus women. Gary Oldman, for instance, won Best Actor for Darkest Hour — a category he shared with Timothée Chalamet and Daniel Kaluuya. Sure, Oldman did a convincing job portraying Winston Churchill. But here, the Academy had the opportunity to award some fresh blood, a younger rising star and a man of colour who offered up two of the most talked about performances of the year. Instead, they went the usual route: a man who, it should be noted, once defended the anti-semitic comments of Mel Gibson. A man whose ex-wife accused him of beating her in 2001. (Oldman denied the allegations.)
Perhaps this lack of action from the Oscars shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 2016, #OscarsSoWhite was the Twitter-born hashtag that was supposed to raise awareness about the lack of Black and brown people not just in the nominations, but also included at the awards show. And yet for the two years since, the Oscars has made no real effort to increase visibility for minorities. Moonlight, one of the biggest movies of 2016, had its Best Picture moment of glory stolen at last year's show thanks to a gaffe that accidentally gave the distinction to La La Land. And while numbers are slowly but surely rising for Black nominees, honours for for Latino and Asians are still stunningly low.
There was some progress for both women and minorities at last night’s show. Chilean actress Daniela Vega was the Oscars' first transgender presenter, and the movie she stars in, A Fantastic Woman, won Best Foreign Language film. Coco had multiple wins, including Best Animated Film, and there was a joyful Mexican-inspired performance of the theme song, “Remember Me,” which won Best Song later that night. Get Out writer and director Jordan Peele received the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and Lupita Nyong'o and Kumail Nanjiani shouted out Dreamers just like themselves and pledged to stand with them. Rapper Common also performed alongside Andra Day, kicking off the song with a nod to feminists and Dreamers.
And then presenters Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph hilariously took the stage. The duo made for a refreshing, delightful pair, their banter a breath of fresh air from the mostly stagnant one-liners we'd heard throughout the night. But their humour was also a reality check that brought the show back down to Earth. Haddish joked that people in the audience were probably wondering if their presence meant that “the Oscars are too Black now,” and then Rudolph reassured the audience: “Don’t worry, there are so many more white people to come tonight.” The duo continued by pointing out that all of the people in charge backstage wearing headsets were white.
There were two moments that were saving graces for the 2018 Oscars. The first was when we finally saw a Time’s Up montage, introduced by three Harvey Weinstein accusers, featuring highlights of some of the most trailblazing projects of the past year, like Mudbound, Get Out, Lady Bird, Wonder Woman, and Black Panther. There were also poignant interviews with creators like Ava DuVernay and Greta Gerwig, as well as Oscar nominee Kumail Nanjiani, who said: "Some of my favourite movies are by straight white dudes about straight white dudes. And now straight white dudes can watch movies about dudes like me, and you relate. It's not that hard. I've done it all my life." So on point, and a major message. The problem? This moment came well over two hours into the show and, compared to the other lengthy Hollywood history montages throughout the night, it was all too brief. A Time's Up moment on this scale should have been front and centre and given plenty of time and respect.
The other highlight of the night was Frances McDormand's acceptance speech for Best Actress. She ended her thank you's by reminding everyone in the industry about inclusion riders, an inclusivity clause that can and should be incorporated into movie contracts. She also asked her fellow woman nominees in the room to join her in her win by asking them to stand. And though it was a powerful moment — a much-needed celebration of women's achievements this year — seeing the women in the room stand also brought to light a sad truth. There were 51 women nominated for Oscars this year, compared to 155 men. And of those 51 women, only seven were women of colour.
From the red carpet — where celebrities were all too nice to E! News correspondent Ryan Seacrest, who remained a host despite recent allegations of sexual assault (he denies all allegations) — to the actual awards ceremony, it’s clear the Oscars have no vested interest in becoming more inclusive or standing up for women. They had several great examples to follow from earlier this awards season, like the Golden Globes, where female attendees wore black in a statement of protest, and the SAG Awards, which featured only female presenters. Twitter, in fact, did a much better job of planning what a timely, progressive Oscars awards show could and should look like, pointing out the irony in Bryant’s win and suggesting that Haddish and Rudolph would make much better hosts that Kimmel.
Early numbers revealed that last night's ceremony had the all-time lowest viewership for the awards show, down 16% from last year and also down among viewers in the coveted 18-49 age bracket. For the record, the show's highest viewership years were when Chris Rock hosted in 2005 and Ellen DeGeneres hosted in 2014.
But the Academy's issue clearly goes much deeper than its choice of host. If the Oscars have any chance of remaining relevant or interesting — or ever getting a younger viewership — they need to figure out a way to create an evening that's equal parts celebratory, diverse, and up-to-date, instead of simply a hollow night for the movie industry. Because based on last night’s show, the 90th Academy Awards might’ve been the last for many viewers.