A year of diversity in the movies comes full circle at the Oscars

There have been many diverse years of Oscar ceremonies, of course, and many political counterpoints brought up by presenters and winners alike, but this year seems to have been a bit different. There was a strange calm over the entire show, a sort of confidence in each acceptance speech, as though the “me-too” movement and the empowerment of women has now found a sort of safe place within Hollywood.

Although there were only six women who actually won this year, they all spoke of this year of change and equalization for women in the industry as if now things were happening for them but the pressure for equality and respect had to be maintained at all costs.

Frances McDormand, receiving her second Oscar in the Best Actress category — her first was in “Fargo” (1996) — seemed to make her point very well when she called upon every female nominee to stand to rapturous applause, but then she ended with a cryptic message to everyone. She said, “I have two words for you: inclusion rider!” This is a term used within movie industry circles, a belief by many that there should be, to quote: “requirements in contracts that provide for gender and racial diversity.”

In the continued, toned-down protests of the night, many simply wore lapel pins to make their point, from “me-too” and gun control, to cancer awareness, but the “times-up” protesters decided that they have made their point at enough awards ceremonies, with writer/director Ava DuVernay summing things up by stating, “We are not an awards protest group, so we stand down this time.”

Rapper/songwriter and last year’s winner for best song Common made his own stand whilst he rapped to the nominated song “Stand up for Something” from the movie “Marshall,” in which he included several political messages with regard to Trump and the NRA and the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Ultimately, however, despite all these smaller, but no less powerful messages, the whole night ended up being played out primarily for entertainment and laughs, although several within the industry are annoyed that maybe too much time was spent saying thank you to an audience in a nearby movie theater, all for a laugh or two, whilst many of the acceptance speeches were cut off early. This makes for a valid point that I certainly agree with, in view of the fact that so many of the lower-down category winners, having reached the pinnacle of their careers, may only ever get this one time in the spotlight.

One of the best surprises of the night was the very popular win for Jordan Peele as his Best Original Screenplay Oscar, for “Get Out,” made for some firsts within the movie world. He has become the first African American to win in this category, as well as being only the third person in all 90 years of Oscar to be nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay — the other two being Warren Beatty for “Reds” (1981) and James L. Brooks for “Terms of Endearment” (1983). It’s an incredible achievement indeed, especially with it being Peele’s feature film directorial debut.

Allison Janney was another very popular winner for her astonishingly good support performance as LaVona Fay Golden, Tonya Harding’s mother, in “I, Tonya.”

Gary Oldman, a veritable ‘one-man” British institution of acting, has won in only his second-ever Oscar nomination, something that has shocked many because he has been responsible for some truly great performances over his almost 40 years in film and television — here, though, a very well deserved win for his amazingly realistic and incredibly nuanced performance as Sir Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.”

Sam Rockwell, another newcomer to the Oscars, won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his chillingly blunt performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” But it was Guillermo Del Toro who really took the spotlight at this year’s ceremony with his two Oscar wins for Best Director and Best Picture for the unusual and mesmerizing “The Shape of Water.”

It is worth mentioning Alexandre Desplat’s win for his original score of “The Shape of Water,” as this is now his second win out of nine nominations and certainly well deserved, even though I was convinced Hans Zimmer would win for his amazingly atmospheric score for “Dunkirk.” I think Desplat was equally well deserving.

Speaking of music, the songs included this year seemed to all lift the show with some powerful performances and messages. As stated earlier, the performance by Common was by far the most controversial, but Mary J. Blige, for me, stole the night with a rousing and emotional performance of her own co-penned “Mighty River” from “Mudbound.” She brought everyone to their feet with her uniquely soulful voice and emotional delivery which certainly set the bar way high for the night which no other performance could quite match. Keala Settle’s powerful rendition of “This is Me,” her song from “The Greatest Showman,” pleased the audience and recreated the excellently delivered dance sequence from the movie, but the performance of “Remember Me” from “Coco,” which actually went on to win, was criticized for being flat and, despite a colorfully stage-filling performance, lacked any of the emotion that either of the previous two songs created.

As well as the diversity shown with all the socially historic aspects of this ceremony, as stated above, I felt that the technical diversity, also on display, was a shining example unto itself. Roger Deakins’ incredibly realized and visually poetic photography for “Blade Runner 2049” was a well-deserved winner. The astonishingly well made “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan’s brilliantly realistic portrayal of the Second World War incident at the Normandy beaches, certainly deserved its three Oscars for editing and sound. Finally, “Coco,” as already mentioned with regard to the song, headed a list of brilliantly made animations that really all deserved to win in their own right, but in the end, the rest gave way, deservedly, to this one.

A night of diversity in so many aspects of film-making and social comment was all rolled together in a show that was funny — Jimmy Kimmel, as always, doing a fine job — poignant and refreshingly honest. After all, the Oscars are about the movies first and, despite that point sometimes being lost in the politics of the night, this particular show was a fine example of just that. I certainly hope it continues that way in the future, and the artistry, imagination and social reference that shows up so well in all these movie productions will continue on for many generations to come.