World Features

Oscars 2018: Where Women Cheered For Each Other And Called For ‘Inclusion Rider’

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If he were an actor in India, 88-year-old Christopher Plummer would have already won a dozen lifetime achievement awards – covert signals for him to retire from acting and be a permanent cheerleader at cine awards. Sixty-year-old Frances McDormand would have been slotted as an annoying mother of the hero who, perhaps, is just a decade younger than her. But this year, at the 90th Academy awards, both of them were nominees for the best actor and actress awards, respectively.

McDormand went on to win the award. Ratna Pathak Shah, a brilliant actor largely relegated to playing mother, must be celebrating today. In her acceptance speech, McDormand honoured the other women who were nominated in various categories. “Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed,” she said. “Don’t talk to us about it at the parties… invite us into your office in a couple of days or you can come to ours, whichever suits you best, and we’ll tell you all about them,” she announced in a voice quivering with excitement. She concluded her speech with: “I have two words for you: inclusion rider.” An “inclusion rider” is a clause that an actor can insist be inserted in the contract; it requires the cast and crew on a film to meet a certain level of diversity.

Among the nominees in the major categories were cinematographer Rachel Morrison, making history to be the first woman to ever be there, and actor-writer-director Greta Gerwig. Morrison lost her award to Roger A Deakins, the iconic cinematographer whose legacy is impossible to be contained in an Oscar recognition, and Greta lost to Shape Of Water director Guillermo Del Toro, whose film also won the award for the best picture, toppling the trend of not awarding the best director and best picture to the same team. However, like a metaphor, Chile’s Fantastic Women,  a riveting drama about a trans woman, won the award for Best Foreign Language film, paying an eponymous tribute to the badass women in the cine industry.

The Academy Awards ceremony has, over the years, become one of the most politically-charged cultural events, and inclusiveness is its prime founding principle. It’s at the Oscars that the most pivotal movements in Hollywood play out as vital political statements, and these then go on to quietly influence films and nominations in the coming year.

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They find ripples even in other film industries, India for one. The event is also special for how the host and the guests rap powerful political leaders of the world for not doing their job well; something very unlikely to ever happen in India where the National Awards ceremony is organised like a programme presided over by a stern headmaster, and other popular awards are mostly pointless flamboyant affairs where glitz gets recognised over real talent.

In his opening speech, host Jimmy Kimmel made a witty remark directed at US vice-president Mike Pence, known for his anti-LGBT record: “We don’t make movies like Call Me By Your Name to make money. We make them to upset Mike Pence.”

The Oscars, this year, is crucial, for it takes place in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimeUp movements through which women in movie industries across the world decided to call out sexual predators and gender discrimination like never before. Plenty of digs were taken at the man at the centre of the controversy, producer Harvey Weinstein, and other sexual aggressors. “The golden Oscar statue is an ideal Hollywood man,” said Kimmel in his opening speech. “He keeps his hands where you can see them. Never says a rude word. And, most importantly, no penis at all. He is literally a statue of limitations.” Three women who came out in public against Weinstein – Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek, and Annabella Sciorra – appeared on stage together to raise a toast to the women’s solidarity movement, and also, to more diversity on screen. “This year, many spoke their truth and the journey ahead is long, but slowly a new path has emerged,” said Sciorra.

One of the wittiest lines of the evenings were delivered by actors Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani, who voiced their support for the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration) programme that protects undocumented migrants who arrived in the US as children. “We are the two actors you keep hearing about but whose names you have trouble pronouncing,” they said. Nyong’o is from Kenya, while Kumail is of Pakistani origin. “Like everyone in this room and everyone watching at home, we are dreamers,” Nyong’o said. “We grew up dreaming of one day working in the movies. Dreams are the foundation of Hollywood, and dreams are the foundation of America.”

The immigrants issue got several mentions at the award ceremony. After Coco won the award for the best animated film, director Lee Unkrich delivered a fiery speech dedicated to the people of Mexico. “Representation matters.” he said, “With Coco, we tried to take a step forward toward a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look and talk and live like they do. Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong.” Among the immigrants who won big awards at the ceremony this year is Guillermo Del Toro, who became the third Mexican director in five years to win the award. “I am an immigrant … The best thing our industry does is to help erase the lines in the sand when the world tries to make them deeper.”

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