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As the official costume designer for the Academy Awards, Katja Cahill dresses the telecast’s dancers and performers, and, sometimes, she gets the call to dress presenters for a surprise moment. Like the one that went down Sunday night when Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy took the stage with Brian Tyree Henry to present the award for best costume design.
During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter on Monday, Cahill, still riding high from a successful show, said that the goal was to honor nominees from five films — Mary Zophres (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Ruth E. Carter (Black Panther), double nominee Sandy Powell (The Favourite and Mary Poppins Returns) and Alexandra Byrne (Mary Queen of Scots) — while having some fun. “All of the costumes are so wonderful and you want to represent that while also not making it look crazy,” Cahill said, adding that it was McCarthy’s idea to make it authentic and respectful and kind of like “all the costumes sort of threw up.”
Twitter thought the ensembles were delicious, but Oscar-nominated costume designer Arianne Phillips said they made her sick.
Phillips, singled out by the Academy for her work in 2012 on Madonna’s W.E. and in 2006 for James Mangold’s Walk the Line, took to Facebook Monday night to slam the looks as “tasteless and insulting” to her industry.
“I like to think I have a sense of humor,” posted Phillips, who worked on Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. “I have heard from more than a couple friends and family members who also thought this was insulting and in bad taste…. WHAT say you fellow Costume Designer, costumer peeps and facebookers? AND…Sandy Powell & Ruth Carter whose work was made a mockery and the makeup design from Black Panther as well.”
McCarthy and Henry, friends after filming the upcoming comedy Superintelligence, wore looks that featured elements inspired by the five films. McCarthy was festooned with 53 stuffed rabbits in homage to Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne of The Favourite; her wig was reminiscent of Margot Robbie’s in Mary Queen of Scots; and her hat was a nod to The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Henry’s hair and eye makeup evoked Black Panther, which featured the work of eventual Oscar winner Carter, and he also donned a blue cape a la Mary Poppins.
“As Costume Designers we struggle with people in our own industry UNDERSTANDING our job, on this one night where the work is supposed to be elevated (look at the international ratings) this is perhaps the most egregious misrepresentation not only of taste (which is subjective) but of value to the film making process. We are not just ‘shoppers,’ as our job is so often misunderstood,” Phillips continued. “We constantly have to explain our job this kind of mockery only underscores frustration. Feels like major steps backwards. SHAME on the Academy for allowing this to be broadcast.”
The post generated a healthy amount of comments from her friends group, and nearly all were in support of her opinion. Superstore costume designer Alix Hester commented that she’s “getting very concerned about the lack of respect for our craft. Would they ever ridicule production design or cinematography in this way? I‘m tired of being called wardrobe with no understanding that we create costumes that inform a character and tell a story.”
Another user, American Horror Story costumer designer Paula Bradley, agreed and went as far as to suggest an open letter to the L.A. Times.
Still, Cahill found support for her Oscars craft from Pitch Perfect 3 costume designer Salvador Perez who rushed to her defense. “A costume designer designed this and is very proud of it, she has posted many pics to her Instagram account about it, it may not be your taste, but it was designed by a fellow costume designer, not a producer,” he wrote. “The beauty of costume design is that we get to show creativity in many ways, this was her vision. Be careful how you dismiss your colleagues’ work.”
Phillips responded to Perez to applaud Cahill’s efforts while also defending her original point. “She and her team obviously worked meticulously to create such elaborate comedy. So bravo for doing her/their job well! I do not agree with the content and context of how that script was written. This is my opinion, and the opinion of many people here as well as many people who contacted me after seeing the show. We can agree to disagree. In my opinion this tacky and egregious misstep is about representation.”
McCarthy and Henry didn’t like the script either. Well, the original one that was presented to them by producers and so McCarthy came up with the idea to do something fresh. “It didn’t reflect us or our friendship, so we just said, ‘Look, if we are going to honor everyone on this list, let’s fucking go for it,'” Henry told THR after the show during the Vanity Fair Oscar party. “So we went balls to the wall.”
Mission accomplished. Just depends on what wall one is looking at. On the flip side of Phillips were outlets like Elite Daily, which ran a story pulling reaction on Twitter below a headline that read, “Melissa McCarthy’s 2019 Oscar Presentation for Best Costume Design Just Won the Night.”
Phillips sent a statement to THR apologizing to McCarthy, Henry and Cahill, and adding that her intention with the post was to have a private dialogue with her Facebook community.
“Wednesday, I woke up to a friend alerting me that an article had been written around a private Facebook post. This particular post was addressed to my friends, family and circle of colleagues. I would like to apologize to Melissa McCarthy, Bryan Tyree Henry and costume designer Katja Cahill. My frustration should have been directed towards the Academy Awards show producers who are responsible for content. My intention was to express my dismay with the best costume design presentation, being the brunt of a joke during an evening where we are given the opportunity to elevate our craft,” Phillips said in the statement. “As costume designers, we often feel misunderstood. I used my private forum to express my frustrations and ask my colleagues for their opinions and, unfortunately, my words were repurposed for an article without my consent. I never meant to directly disrespect any of the parties involved. I am deeply committed to and believe in artistic freedom and celebrating the art of costume design. In no way would I ever want to eclipse any attention away from the costume designers being honored with nominations. This was their night and I applaud them.”
March 4, 11:15 a.m.: Updated to include statement from Arianne Phillips. Editor’s note: The Facebook post was set to public.
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