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Gather hundreds of entertainment-industry types in a room and allow them speeches months before a presidential election, and discussion of politics is bound to ensue — as it did at Sunday night’s Academy Awards.
The first political commentary of the evening came during Steve Martin and Chris Rock’s opening monologue, where Martin recalled the famous best picture category mishap in 2017. “They have guaranteed this will not happen this year because the Academy has switched to the new Iowa caucus app. But what a night!” (Martin was making light of Tuesday’s Iowa Democratic caucus’ technical issues that delayed results for several days.)
Rock responded: “I don’t know, Steve. I’m a little conflicted, you know? I was driving here tonight, seeing the terrible homeless problem in L.A.—” at which point Martin cut him off: “Thank you, Chris! So many stars!”
Accepting the first award of the night, for best supporting actor, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s Brad Pitt also made a nod to U.S. politics during his speech. “They told me I have 45 seconds this year, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” Pitt said, referring to the lack of witnesses during the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Backstage after his speech, Pitt expanded: “I was really disappointed with this week. I think the gamesmanship Trump’s doing, I don’t think we should let that slide. I’m very serious about that.”
Political jokes and speeches continued throughout the evening. During Josh Gad’s introduction of Idina Menzel’s performance of best original song nominee “Into the Unknown” from Frozen 2, the actor quipped: “Frozen 2 — or as climate change deniers call it, Not Frozen 2 — has been dubbed in 45 countries around the world.” He then explained that that meant there were 45 different actresses who voice the character. “Canadian Elsa is basically the same, but with healthcare.”
During a prerecorded video about the power of documentaries later, the Academy included an excerpt of climate activist Greta Thunberg thanking David Attenborough — the famed voice of the BBC’s Life series of nature documentaries — for exposing her to the reality of climate change.
After she won in the best documentary feature category, American Factory co-director Julia Reichert said in her acceptance speech, “Working people have it harder and harder these days. We believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite,” seemingly a call for unionization.
During his best actor speech for Joker, Joaquin Phoenix addressed many kinds of inequality: “I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the distressing issues we’ve been facing collectively. Sometimes we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes, but for me I see commonality,” he said. Discussions of gender inequality, racism and animal rights, among other causes, he said, stem from “the fight against injustice” and someone feeling they have the “right to dominate, control with impunity.”
Phoenix then focused on his causes of environmentalism and animal rights: “I think that we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world, and many of us, what we’re guilty of, is an egocentric worldview. We go into the natural world and plunder its resources,” he said. He then said that helping to preserve the environment isn’t that hard because people are “ingenious.”
The remarks at the Oscars follow an awards season of heightened political activism from some nominees, notably animal rights activist Phoenix, whose behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts led the Golden Globes to go all-vegan. (The Critics’ Choice Awards and SAG Awards also made the switch, as well as the Oscar Nominees Luncheon.) In his Golden Globes speech, Phoenix additionally called for an end to stars flying private jets to nearby events, including the Palm Springs Film Festival.
During the Golden Globes, host Ricky Gervais explicitly told the night’s winners not to get political in their speeches while highlighting the economic inequality between viewers and the honorees of the ceremony with his risqué speech. “You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg,” he remarked.
Of course, the Academy found itself in the hot seat when nominations were revealed in mid-January and few creators of color received nods: 19 of the 20 acting nominees were white, while all the directing nominees were white men.
The 92nd annual Academy Awards took place at the Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood and were televised live on ABC.
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