Were #MeToo, Time’s Up Really Prominent at the Oscars?

Noor Majid, Web Developer

The 90th Oscars Ceremony, which took place at the Dolby Theater last Sunday (March 4), thankfully avoided a fiasco such as last year’s Best Picture award mixup — in which Hollywood-dreamscape La La Land was mistakenly announced as winner before Moonlight swept in as the rightful victor. However, the 2018 awards ceremony celebrating the past year in film was not entirely free of awkward moments, such as The Shape of Water producer’s speech getting cut short; host Jimmy Kimmel asking director Steven Spielberg for drugs; or the “non-kiss” with a woman in the audience and Richard Hoover of Blade Runner 2049 (who was walking to the stage to receive the movie’s Best Visual Effects Oscar — the first of two wins).

The Sunday night was particularly memorable for The Shape of Water crew, as it took away four Oscars — including Best Picture! — out of a whopping 13 nominations. Disney/Pixar’s endearing Coco also won big, with awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song, the latter coming from Frozen songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who won in 2014 for “Let It Go.”

Photo: Fox Searchlight
Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in “The Shape of Water”.

Along with awards and superbly-dressed stars, however, this year’s ceremony is notably the first Academy Awards since the New York Times exposé on producer Harvey Weinstein; and the first since #MeToo and Time’s Up became household names across America.

The Golden Globes had set the bar relatively high for awards shows when it came to addressing the issue of sexual misconduct in Hollywood, with the majority of stars dressed in black for solidarity, and speeches such as Oprah Winfrey’s powerful dictation on equality and racial issues potent among winners. As such, one of the biggest questions going into the Oscars telecast on Sunday was how one of, if not the most prominent awards show of the season would handle the most powerful story in Hollywood.

It did not deliver.

While some moments did seem to point to a more enlightened future for Hollywood, others only reflected an industry mired in the past — where powerful men abused their positions to degrade and harass others of lesser status. The ceremony itself is unlikely to be remembered as groundbreaking, but it did include clear and specific calls for change (made mostly by women) that could lead, in the long run, to a more equitable entertainment industry for everyone.

Host Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue, for example, tackled the issue of Hollywood harassment head on — and even managed to wring some (at times far-fetched) humor from it. Memorably, Kim

Photo: Lucy Nicholson
Jimmy Kimmel hosts the 89th Academy Awards show in 2017.

mel quipped that Hollywood is so clueless about women that “[it] made a movie called What Women Want [starring] Mel Gibson.” The joke hit home since Mel Gibson was accused of domestic violence by his now ex-wife; and because he went on an anti-Semitic rant during a 2006 arrest in which he said, “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Kimmel also offered an amusing but worthwhile reminder that reform in Hollywood can only go so far: “We need to set an example,” he said, “and the truth is if we are successful here, if we can work together to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, if we can do that, women will only have to deal with harassment all the time at every other place they go.” 

In addition, Time’s Up activists Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino walked the red carpet together, and Judd took the opportunity to remind viewers of the difficulties of speaking out about sexual harassment and assault, and the necessity of supporting those who do so. “Those of us who have come forward,” she said, “we’ve often been disbelieved, minimized, shamed, and so much of the movement is about externalizing that shame and putting it back where it belongs, which is with the perpetrator.”

Photo: David Fisher
Ashley Judd (L) and Mira Sorvino (R) walk the Oscars red carpet together. Both were among the earliest to come forward with their stories of being sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein.

Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek, and Annabella Sciorra also later took to the stage to show the official Time’s Up montage. The video featured clips with uplifting images of women, people of color, and LGBTQ people; all interspersed with interviews from filmmakers such as Greta Gerwig, Barry Jenkins, and Kumail Nanjiani, who enthusiastically discussed the importance of onscreen representation. However, many are also stating that the video was “not enough” or “too polite” — because while it gave well-deserved praise to some great recent movies for diverse representation, the montage missed the opportunity to make any real comment on how Hollywood can be safer for the people (namely women) who work there.

And save for these relatively few moments of progression, the Oscars overall remained a glamouresque picture show for some of Hollywood’s biggest names to show off their glittering dress. In fact, this year’s ceremony had the fewest number of female winners since 2012 — surely a step backward for the industry.

It is undeniable that the Academy missed the bill on this year’s awards show, as it not only promoted but actually awarded several men accused of harassment and assault — namely Ryan Seacrest, Kobe Bryant and Gary Oldman.

Seacrest remained E! Entertainment’s go-to red carpet correspondent for the Oscars pre-show despite having been recently accused of sexual abuse by a former stylist. He has denied the allegations, citing an internal investigation that found him innocent. But his presence was certainly an impediment, given that he couldn’t ask any actors about Time’s Up or #MeToo — two of the biggest issues of the night — without looking hypocritical.

Next, former professional basketball player Kobe Bryant won his first Oscar for his animated short film Dear Basketball. Bryant was charged with sexual assault in 2003: at the time, his 19-year-old accuser decided not to testify in court about her alleged rape and dropped the criminal charges. However, she did pursue a civil suit and they settled out of court on the condition that Bryant read a statement which said, in part, “I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”

And finally, Gary Oldman took the trophy for Best Actor for his performance as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour. But in 2001, Oldman denied allegations made by his now ex-wife which accused him of assaulting her with a phone in front of their children.

Whether real change is coming to the entertainment industry remains to be seen. The Oscars has shown that the power play in Hollywood is still very male-centric, and that even alleged rapists can still win. But despite its disappointing moments, the ceremony also offered significant hope that the film industry — thanks in large part to the efforts of women — can start to reform. Time will tell now; as next year’s show will reveal whether that hope was justified.

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