The Jokes, The Politics - And The Biggest Mistake In Oscar History

Roe McDermott takes you through the rollercoaster of emotion that was the 89th Academy Awards, including that truly shocking twist in the ending...

The 89th annual Academy Awards were held in the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles last night - and unsurprisingly for the year that's in it, political statements were being made even before the stars got inside the building. But little did they we know that politics weren't going to be the source of the most talked-about moment of not just the evening, but possibly Oscars history.

Hamilton star and songwriter Lin Manuel Miranda, who later gave a rousing performance of 'How Far I'll Go' from Disney's Moana, arrived on the red carpet wearing a blue ribbon in support of the ACLU, who are fighting for the rights of people of colour and immigrants in America. Miranda explained his decision by saying that "I'm wearing an ACLU ribbon because they're fighting incredible fights right now for American ideals."

Inside the Dolby Theatre, Justin Timberlake opened the show with a performance of the Oscar-nominated song 'Can't Stop The Feeling', high-fiving Denzel Washington and getting stars like Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem to stand up and dance like maniacs. Timberlake stayed true to his promise of giving a politics-free performance - but that wasn't to last too long.

As Timberlake shimmied off-stage, host Jimmy Kimmel emerged, welcoming the audience in the theatre, as well as people watching at home in the U.S. and those watching "around the world in 220 countries who now hate us."

Kimmel referred to the divisive times the world is in, and said as a comedian, he wasn't in a position to fix it. He then got in a sly jab at Hacksaw Ridge director and disgraced anti-Semite Mel Gibson, saying "There's only one Braveheart in this room, and he's not going to unite us either."

Kimmel made a (somewhat generic) call for unity, encouraging people to "reach out and talk to someone they disagree with - not as liberals, not as conservatives, just as Americans."

And of course there a few jabs at the new President of the United States, as Kimmel noted that Trump's insanity had taken the spotlight of off Hollywood's systemic prejudice.

"Maybe this is not a popular thing to say," said Kimmel, "but I want to say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?"

Kimmel also referred to the controversy that surrounded Meryl Streep when she addressed Trump's bigotry during the Golden Globes - a speech that Trump responded to with a series of tweets trying to discredit Streep (As if that can be done.) Kimmel got the entire room to give a standing ovation to Streep's lifelong history of "uninspired and overrated performances" - which everyone did, ecstatically.

Kimmel predicted that Trump would likely tweet about political speeches made during the Oscars "in all caps during his 5 a.m. bowel movements tomorrow."

Kimmel may have approached politics with a light touch, but Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs was clear and poetic in her speech, saying “Tonight is proof that art has no borders, art has no single language, and art does not belong to a single faith. The power of art is that it transcends all these things."

The first big win was for Mahershala Ali, who deservedly scooped up the award for Best Supporting Actor, for his stunning role in Moonlight. In so doing, the Luke Cage actor became the first Muslim actor to ever win an Oscar. In this emotional speech, Ali thanked his former teachers, director Barry Jenkins and his wife who gave birth just four days ago! Hope someone is giving her a gold statue too.

Hidden Figures became box office gold during the year with its heartfelt portrayal of three Black mathematicians who helped put NASA ahead in the Space Race against the Soviet Union. Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine Johnson in the film, and tears were shed by many an audience member when the stage was graced with the real Katherine Johnson, now 98 years old. Johnson, visibly moved, thanked the Academy and audience for the warm welcome.

From one iconic Black woman to another, Viola Davis was awarded Best Supporting Actress for her role in Denzel Washington's Fences, the first big-screen adaptation of an August Wilson play. Davis' win surprised no-one as she was always a shoe-in - though there has been some controversy that she was nominated as a supporting, rather than lead, actress. Davis was graceful and emotional, thanking her parents and "oh Captain my Captain" Denzel Washington, and saying "Here's to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people."

Another writer and director to whom that description could apply, Iran's Asghar Farhadi, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for his thriller, The Salesman. It's the director's second Oscar, as he won in this category in 2012 for A Separation. Farhadi was not present to accept his award last night, as he boycotted the Oscars in protest of the Republican Administration's travel ban. A statement issued on his behalf said that filmmakers create empathy between others, and that is more needed today than ever.

Farhadi wasn't the only filmmaker to miss the ceremony - Syrian cinematographer of the Best Documentary Short winner The White Helmets was denied entry to the United States and so couldn't attend. The Netflix film focuses on the rescue workers who risk their lives to save Syrians affected by civil war. Director Orlando von Einsiedel urged Oscar attendees to stand up to demonstrate their support for a quick end to the Syrian civil war, which prompted a standing ovation

The next big win went to Zootopia (aka Zootropolis), which won Best Animated Film. The Disney film about a bunny police officer in an animal world that mirrors our own experience of prejudice and bigotry was superb, with a political and social consciousness that's rare to find in a children's film - and thus all the more necessary.

Kimmel introduced a bit of levity by bringing his show' classic 'Mean Tweets" skit to the Oscars, getting actors and filmmakers to read out offensive tweets people have written about them. Until you've seen the delightful Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne read the words "dear eddie redmayne i hate your stinking guts", you haven't lived. Kimmel also tweeted Trump, asking if he's up, and telling him Meryl says hi. Who wants to guess that Sean Spicer has just hidden the President's phone to make Monday morning's press conference easier?

The mood quickly became sombre as Jennifer Aniston presented the montage of all the actors and filmmakers who died during 2017. Names including Carrie Fisher, Prince, Gene Wilder, Michael Cimino, Patty Duke, Garry Marshall, Anton Yelchin, Mary Tyler Moore, Curtis Hanson and John Hurt. David Bowie was omitted from the list, which many people on Twitter noticed and objected to, given his performances in films such as The Man Who Fell To Earth and Labyrinth. There wasn't time to add Bill Paxton to the In Memorium montage, as the Titanic and Twister actor only died on Sunday morning. However, Aniston mentioned the actor before the montage, her voice wobbling.

After the In Memorium montage, Manchester By The Sea was awarded Best Original Screenplay while Moonlight's Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney deservedly win Best Adapted Screenplay. Jenkins wrote the script and McCraney received a 'story by' credit and wrote the short autobiographical script In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue which inspired the film. They are now just the third and fourth black screenwriters to win an Oscar for writing. The previous two were Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious and John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave.

The two writers' speeches were thoughtful and inspiring, mentioning the importance of people who feel like they don’t have support. Jenkins promised that over the next four years, they will be supported by the ACLU and by artists, saying "We will not you leave you alone, we will not forget you." McCraney also paid tribute to LGBTQ kids of colour, saying that his award "goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non gender conforming who don’t see themselves, we’re trying to show you you and us,” McCraney added. “Thank you, thank you. This is for you.”

As predicted, Damien Chazelle then scooped up Best Director for La La Land, becoming the youngest person to ever do so. The 32 year old made a sweet and romantic speech, saying, “This was a film about love and I was lucky to fall in love while making it” - a tribute to his girlfriend Olivia Hamilton, an accomplished financial analyst who makes a brief appearance in La La Land as Bree, the gluten-free girl.

The Best Actor award was also unsurprising, and Casey Affleck walked away with the gong for his portrayal of a grief-stricken man suddenly entrusted with custody of his teenage nephew in Manchester By The Sea. Affleck's performance is beautiful and nuanced, though as Hot Press has noted, his win is not without controversy, given that he was accused of sexual harassment by two women while working on I'm Still Here. Affleck was hugged by big brother Ben before taking to the stage, and during his acceptance speech, Affleck thanked Denzel Washington, who was his main competition in the acting category. Washington looked distinctly unimpressed by the gesture, and we're guessing that his pissed-off frown will birth a thousand gifs.

Also unsurprisingly but disappointingly (admittedly for very different reasons), Emma Stone won Best Actress, which feels somewhat undeserved. Her performance in La La Land is charming but hardly exceptional, while Isabelle Huppert's role in Elle was an unprecedented exercise in icy complexity. Stone paid tribute to the other actresses in the category, including our own Ruth Negga, as well as thanking her co-star Ryan Gosling for "making me laugh and being the best partner on this crazy adventure."

Just before Best Film was announced, Jimmy Kimmel attempted an "edgy" skit in which he made jokes about ethnic-sounding names. As reductive as it was offensive, it represented a bizarre misstep for the host, who has been almost blandly cordial until then.

The crowd recovered just in time for the final big announcement of the night - the one everyone had been waiting for, and everyone has predicted, and everyone had been complaining about - yes, La La Land walks away with Best Picture - NO WAIT, IT TOTALLY DIDN'T.

In an utterly bizarre and embarrassing moment that will surely go down in history as an Oscars disaster, presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope for the biggest award of the night. The Bonnie and Clyde actors announced that La La Land had won and let Damien Chazelle and La La Land's producers come onstage to accept the Oscar. The acceptance speeches were already underway when an Academy member arrived onstage and started whispering to the actors and filmmakers, and it was up to La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz to take the microphone and explain the mistake.

"I'm sorry, no. There's a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture. This is not a joke. They read the wrong thing," Horowitz announced, inducing gasps and mutters of confusion in the audience. "This is not a joke. Moonlight has won Best Picture." Horowitz then held up the correct envelope which clearly stated Moonlight.

As both the cast and crew of La La Land tried to gather themselves and switch positions on stage, poor Beatty tried to explain that the envelope he had opened had said 'Emma Stone, La La Land.' The Oscar was finally handed back to Moonlight to rapturous applause, but you couldn't help but feel that some of the joy had been stripped from the event due to the sheer shock.

Barry Jenkins thanked the crew of La La Land, saying "We've been on the road with these guys for so long, and that was so gracious and generous of them. My love to La La Land, my love to them."

Moonlight producer Adele Romanski, clearly shell-shocked, dedicated the film to individuals like the ones represented in the films, saying, "I hope it's inspiring to little Black boys and little brown girls and other people at home who feel marginalised and who take some inspiration from seeing this beautiful group of artists, helmed by my friend Barry Jenkins."

La La Land still walked away with Best Score, Best Cinematography and Best Original Song as well as Best Actress for Emma Stone, but that has got to sting.

But on a night when Trump was never far from anyone's minds, is it too much to hope that maybe something similar happened back in November?? That maybe somewhere there's a card with 'Hilary Clinton Won' written on it?

As the winner-no-oops-our-mistake-not-really La La Land says: 'Here's to the ones that dream....'

 
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