The 87th Academy Awards — though many took umbrage to the fact that people of color were few and far between among the nominees — were not too shabby last night, with a few folks making their personal moments political on the world stage. There were more than enough tears to go around, as some got downright emotional during the event.
Harlem resident and host Neil Patrick Harris seemed to try to make light of the lack of diversity from the rip, with his first lines — “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and Whitest — I mean brightest,” to polite laughter. Also, after introducing David Oyelowo with a little joke about British accents, Harris said, “Oh sure, now you like him” referring to the fact that Oyelowo receive no nomination for Best Actor for Selma.
Interestingly and assuredly deliberately, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences packed all the Blacks up front so that they were visible, and it was clear that there was a concerted effort to have as many Black presenters this year as possible (presenters usually sit up front). Roll call: Oprah Winfrey and Stedman Graham, John Singleton, Octavia Spencer, Idris Elba and daughter, Lupita Nyong’o and brother, Jennifer Hudson, Viola Davis and husband, Kerry Washington, Eddie Murphy, Kevin Hart, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Gayle King, and Ava Duvernay were all in the first few rows, giving a certain illusion of diversity (reminds me of those private school catalogues where the seven black people in the schools are in all the photos).
Apparently, the planned protests were called off at the last moment, and activists and organizers to meet with the president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a Black woman, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Herewith, the top moments from last night’s Academy Awards (hint: a lot of them involved men shedding tears).
1. First and foremost, John Legend‘s speech as he accepted his Oscar for Best Song for “Glory” for the Selma soundtrack. Legend has been consistent in his remarks and actions around social justice. Last night he seized the opportunity to speak out about Black men being incarcerated at astronomical rates, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which Dr. King marched for, saying it was “compromised today.”
After invoking a quote from Nina Simone, Legend remarked, “We say Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now.” He took the opportunity to talk about imprisonment saying, “right now, we live in the most incarcerated country in the world” and noted that there are more Black men under the penal system today than were in slavery.
There was not too much applause, but there were a few people who stood. We are so glad that he was brave enough to speak truth in a forum that the world watched.
On a side note, on that social justice vein, we also beamed when they showed footage of Harry Belafonte accepting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Governor’s Awards earlier this year for his work both on film and for his activism.
2. Again, John Legend and Common’s performance of “Glory” itself, which earlier in the week the singer said he wanted to make different from their Grammy performance. Under a replica of the Edmund Pettus bridge from the film, Legend and Common (aka John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn), stood on stage with “marchers” invoking the powerful refrain “Glory.” As the best of our music (or any music) can do, it brought many to tears, including David Oyewolo, and Chris Pine who literally weeped at the powerful beauty of it.
3. Speaking of tears, Terrence Howard, got a bit choked up up as he presented a montage of Best Picture nominees, including Whiplash and The Imitation Game and Selma. The star of Fox’s breakout hit, Empire, was clearly emotional as he recounted the sheer sacrifice of characters in the films. “I’m nearly blown away myself,” he said as he obviously tried to compose himself and knocked into the mic once during his presentation:
4. Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson took us there as she sang a soaring “I Can’t Let Go” after the In Memoriam portion of the show, which honors those we lost in the motion picture industry during the past year.
5. Especially in light of the fiasco that was Sony’s reaction to threats against The Interview last year, it was important that Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy, called out for “freedom of expression” in her remarks. “We…have a responsibility to ensure that no one’s voice is silenced by threats,” she said. Take that, North Korea.
6. Birdman director, Alejandro G. Inarritu, who is Mexican (and who is the only person of color nominated in that category) reminded us this is a nation of immigrants, noting that this country is an “incredible immigrant nation.”
7. Patricia Arquette calls for women’s rights in her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood (and Meryl Streep’s cosign was GIF-worthy.) “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” shouted a fiery Arquette. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!”
8. And with any award show, there had to be awkward moments. The one that made us cringe: Oprah gets a fake Oscar made of Legos (but like her fellow actors in Selma, not even a nomination for a real one.) Eh. What do we expect?