Hollywood might buzz forever about that best picture flub at the end of the Academy Awards on Sunday. Pity Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and PricewaterhouseCoopers: From now on, no awards montage will be complete without their fabulous, erroneous announcement that the Oscar would go to “La La Land.” Which it did not.
But out here in the culture, where show business and art still influence and reflect us, there were other, perhaps more telling takeaways from the red carpet.
One was the way the evening kept circling back to essential questions about truth and inclusion. In ways that went far beyond studio A-lists, that’s what concerned us: whose perspectives, whose truths and voices, would be in, and whose would be out.
Would California’s signature industry – so egalitarian in its ideals, so relentlessly white and male in its power structure – finally, meaningfully recognize diverse talent and stories? Or would this be another #OscarsSoWhite?
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Would the evening celebrate the global reach of entertainment, or would it appease those demanding some canned, “nationalist” definition of American culture?
Forget the best picture. In the era of Trump, the Oscars addressed deeper questions.
Would the Hollywood left deliver yet another hours-long ordeal of liberal speeches alienating and excluding the conservative half of the country? Or would someone – anyone – consider art’s power to bring people together?
These cliffhangers are America’s truth at the moment. Credit the entertainment industry for letting them surface. And for answering at least some of them fairly and well, if just for an evening.
The awards were, as it turned out, more diverse than in years past, a symbolic thing, maybe, but immeasurably important to those whose voices have long been marginalized in this culture. The appreciation wasn’t just token, either: The supporting actor performances of Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali were deservedly acclaimed.
The real best picture – “Moonlight” – was not just universal in its humanity, but quietly persuasive: In an era of white, straight, male oligarchs blustering vapidly about “taking back” the country, the academy celebrated the coming of age of a black child in a poor, homophobic community.
The awards also spoke intelligently to this nation’s international role, never mind the isolationist policies of President Donald Trump’s administration. The absence of Iranian director and foreign film winner Asghar Farhadi shone a meaningful spotlight on Trump’s disgraceful travel ban.
And even the celebrity speeches seemed to have evolved some. Yes, there were the inevitable lapel ribbons – blue, this year, in support of the American Civil Liberties Union – and yes, the host, Jimmy Kimmel, tweeted at Trump midway through the proceedings and noted in his monologue that hundreds of countries “now hate us.”
But anyone expecting a moment like, say, the one in 2003 when Michael Moore was booed for assailing George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion, or 1973, when Marlon Brando weirdly sent the Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to accept his best actor Oscar, was sorely disappointed.
Whether by strategy or just out of fear of losing the 44 percent of Americans who like the job Trump is doing so far, Hollywood didn’t deliver the Oscar-night president bashing most of the nation expected. Few, in fact, even named the president directly. Hooray for them.
By Monday morning, of course, the buzz was all about whom to blame for the best picture envelope mix-up, and, in the right-wing media, whether Beatty, a staunch liberal, had been made to look like a fool.
We’re better than that, even in show biz. There was generosity and grace in the way the “La La Land” people yielded “Moonlight’s” well-deserved Oscar, and in Kimmel’s suggestion that the rest of us find someone with whom we disagree, and “have a positive, considerate conversation, not as liberals or conservatives but as Americans.”
“It starts with us,” Kimmel suggested. Buzzworthy or not, it’s the truth.