As expected, politics played a significant role at the 2017 Academy Awards.
The issue of President Trump’s immigration ban was front and center when “The Salesman” won for best foreign language film.
As promised, the film’s Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi, did not attend the Oscars in protest of the president’s executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Instead, he sent a statement, which was read by a representative of the film, Anousheh Ansari. Apologizing for his absence, Farhadi wrote, it was “out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations” that have been “disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.”
The two-time Oscar winner wrote, “Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fear.” He also suggested that filmmakers have a role to play. “They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever,” Ansari read to resounding applause.
In an unprecedented move, all five nominated directors for best foreign language films released a statement before the broadcast expressing their disapproval of “the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the US and some many other countries.” They also expressed their disappointment “most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians.”
Also affected by the travel ban was the head of a group of Syrian volunteers featured in the Oscar-winning documentary “The White Helmets.” Instead, the producers read a statement from Raed Saleh, who is Syrian and the leader of the Syria Civil Defense group, saying how grateful they are that the this film has highlighted their work of saving more than 82,000 civilian lives.
Saying, “it’s very easy for these guys to feel they’ve been forgotten,” the film’s producer asked the audience to “stand up and tell them how much we want this war to end as soon as possible.”
Politics were present from the start of the ceremony, beginning with Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue.
Kimmel started off the night on a serious note, urging everyone watching the telecast to “reach out to one person you disagree with and a have a positive conversation.”
He said that is what could “make America great again.”
He later joked about topics like Homeland Security, alluding to President Trump’s immigration ban from earlier this year and touched on Trump’s “overrated” tweet about Meryl Streep, stemming from her speech this year at the Golden Globe Awards.
Kimmel joked about the 20-time Oscar nominee’s “mediocre early work” and “underwhelming” performances, adding that she’s “phoned it in for more than 50 films.”
Then he made Streep get up for an “undeserved” standing ovation from the audience.
After a commercial break, Kimmel brought up the recent ban of certain news organizations from an off-camera White House briefing last Friday.
“CNN, LA or NY Times … please leave the building, we have no tolerance for fake news,” he joked, adding that other “fake” items were allowed.
The political theme continued as the speeches began, starting with the Italian winners of the Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling. “I’m an immigrant,” one of the winners declared, dedicating his Oscar to other immigrants and drawing a round of applause from the audience.
That was followed by the winner of the best documentary feature. Producer and director Ezra Edelman accepted his award on behalf of victims of police violence, police brutality and criminal injustice. “This is their story as well as Ron’s and Nicole’s,” he said, referring to murder victims Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown.
Viola Davis continued the theme, paying tribute to everyday people as she accepted her first Oscar for best supporting actress.
“You know, there’s one place with all the people with the greatest potential are gathered, and that’s the graveyard,” she said. “People ask me all the time, ‘What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’ And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dream big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost.”
After Davis speech, in which she brought many in the audience to tears, Kimmel joked that she should get an Emmy nomination just for speech.
Accepting the award for best adapted screenplay, “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins told the audience, “If you feel like there is no mirror for you, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back and over the next four years we will not leave you alone. We will not forget you.”
Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose story and play the screenplay was based on, sent his award out “to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender conforming who don’t see themselves, we are trying to show you, you and us. So thank you, thank you, this is for you.”
Later, the pair returned to the stage along with the rest of the cast and crew of “Moonlight” after the film won best picture, but not until the producers of “La La Land” had already taken to the stage after their name was announced as winners. Realizing a mistake had been made, one of the producers said “‘Moonlight’ is the winner … this is not a joke.”
As “Moonlight” producer Adele Romanski accepted her trophy she still seemed shaken up but was able to dedicate the award to “little black boys and little brown girls who are watching at home and feel marginalized.”
Politics at the Oscars dates back to 1973, when Marlon Brando sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to accept his best actor Oscar for “The Godfather.” Brando was protesting the treatment of Native Americans. Littlefeather’s appearance was met with boos and a smattering of applause. Similarly, people have grumbled over the years as Sean Penn castigated those who voted for the ban on gay marriage in California and Michael Moore shamed President Bush for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But that flipped this year with the election of Trump.
Politics were present even before the start of the broadcast, when stars turned up on the red carpet wearing blue ribbons in support of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Loving” star Ruth Negga, Lin-Manuel Miranda and his mother and model Karlie Kloss were among the starts wearing the ribbons.
It was also on the minds of some presenters of the awards.
While presenting the Oscars for animated films, Gael Garcia Bernal declared himself a “migrant worker” as an actor who travels and inhabits different characters. “As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, I’m against any sort of wall that wants to separate us,” he said to rousing applause.
But not everyone talked politics at the Oscars. Mahershala Ali, who won for best supporting actor and gave a moving speech about being a Muslim at the Screen Actors Guild Award where he won the same award, had more important things on his mind. He thanked his wife for being a “soldier” in the final trimester of her pregnancy in the weeks leading up to the Oscars and for giving birth to their daughter four days ago.