Impassioned cries for gender equality and recognizing marginalized people took centerstage at the 90th Academy Awards ceremony, where The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Dunkirk were all recognized with multiple Oscars. When Three Billboards star Frances McDormand gave an electric acceptance speech for Best Actress, she asked every nominated female in the theater to stand up to recognize talented women in front of Hollywood and demand an inclusion rider. Best Director recipient Guillermo del Toro, whose amphibious romance fantasy The Shape of Water won Best Picture, marveled at how the film industry has the ability to break down borders and “erase lines in the sand.”
Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which erased all sorts of lines, was the most nominated film and it took home four Oscars Sunday night, the most for a single motion picture in a year with a surprisingly diverse palate of nominated films. Dunkirk, a dramatization of England’s attempt to rescue troops stranded in France during World War II, was up for eight categories and won three in technical categories (sound editing, sound mixing and film editing), while Three Billboards, a candid, brutal look at a woman’s rage that her daughter’s murder was not investigated, won trophies for McDormand’s steely performance and Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of the cop that attempts to hold her back.
Gary Oldman, who’s played everyone from Sid Vicious to Dracula, won a Best Actor statuette for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, Blade Runner 2049 won for visual effects and cinematography, screenwriter James Ivory won his first Oscar at age 89 for his adaptation of Call Me by Your Name and Jordan Peele won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Get Out.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s tortured-clothing-designer tableau Phantom Thread was nominated in six categories but won only for costume design, while Lady Bird was up for five different Oscars and won none. Nevertheless, the fact that the latter’s filmmaker, Greta Gerwig, was the first woman ever to get a best director nod her first time out and was the first female nominated in the category in eight years was also significant. When Emma Stone introduced the directing category, she did so with irony: “These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year.” It was a sentiment echoed later during McDormand’s call for the women in the audience to stand.
Many of the acceptance speeches focused on the place of women in the film industry and in the world at large, a sign of the way the national conversation has changed since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last year. Weinstein’s name was mercifully barely mentioned during the broadcast; instead, the presenters and recipients focused on the merits of women working in film. Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek appeared side-by-side to support Time’s Up and show a montage that addressed both the role of women and marginalized people within Hollywood that featured interviews with Mira Sorvino, Lee Daniels, Sarah Silverman and Dee Reese, among others.
In the segment, Gerwig reflected on role models growing up, saying, “All the movies I loved were directed by men; that sort of seemed like a prerequisite.” And The Big Sick’s Kumail Nanjiani echoed her sentiment, saying, “Some of my favorite movies are movies by straight white dudes about straight white dudes. Now straight white dudes watch movies starring me and you relate to that. It’s not that hard.”
Elsewhere, Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish joked about how things had changed since #OscarsSoWhite had been a hashtag, promising, “Don’t worry, there are so many more white people to come.” And the co-director of Coco, Lee Unkrich, thanked the people of Mexico to thunderous applause and explained the message he hoped people would get from the film. “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,” he said. “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.” The producers of the Academy Awards also seemed to make a conscious effort to diversify the representation on their stage, having women present the awards not only for Best Actor but also for Best Actress (which in years past was done by men), as well as Best Director. It also welcomed its first-ever transgender presenter, Daniela Vega (the star of A Fantastic Woman, which won Best Foreign Language Film), to introduce Sufjan Stevens’ performance of Call Me By Your Name’s “Mystery of Love.”
The intention, of course, was to avoid any headline-making gaffes like last year when Faye Dunaway read the wrong Best Picture winner. Most of the show, however, seemed overly benign with silly gags like host Jimmy Kimmel promising the person who gave the shortest speech a jet ski (which went to Phantom Thread costume designer Mark Bridges for his 36-second thank-you) and a bit where Kimmel brought stars into a movie theater across the way to surprise an audience. Nevertheless, the show almost hit the four-hour mark and the host’s monologue was careful and measured, mostly free of barbs and insults.
“We need to set an example,” Kimmel said in his opening monologue. “If we can work to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, women will only have to deal with harassment all the time every other place they go.”