The 89th Academy Awards show promises to be equal parts pomp and politics.
The only thing expected to take the stage more often than the frothy front-runner La La Land at today’s ceremony is protest (and probably some punchlines) over the policies of President Donald Trump. For largely liberal Hollywood, his election has proven a rallying cause in an awards season that has otherwise been a parade of honours for Damien Chazelle’s celebrated musical.
Just how political things are going to get at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles is the big question.
Even the usually glitzy lead-up to the Oscars has taken on the form of a gathering tempest. On Saturday, the United Talent Agency, forgoing its usual Oscar party, instead held a rally over immigration.
“We will not tolerate chaos and ineptitude and war-mongering,” Jodie Foster told the guests.
More strikingly, the six directors of the nominated foreign films released a joint statement condemning “the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the US and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians”.
The signatories included the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose The Salesman is favoured to win him his second foreign language Oscar. He isn’t attending the awards out of protest at Trump’s travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim nations, including Iran.
Sure to stoke the rhetoric at the Oscar ceremony further is the news that US immigration authorities are refusing entry to a 21-year-old Syrian cinematographer who worked on the documentary short nominee The White Helmets, which is about the nation’s civil war.
Meanwhile, about 20 Trump supporters gathered yesterday at an intersection near the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. One held a sign with Trump’s signature slogan, “Make America Great Again”, while another sign asked motorists to honk if they supported Trump. There were few honks.
Some Trump supporters are calling for a boycott of the awards broadcast, expecting more speeches like Meryl Streep’s fiery remarks at the Golden Globes – which prompted Trump to call her “overrated”.
On Saturday the Academy of Motion Pictures added Streep, also a nominee, to its presenters.
Today’s host, Jimmy Kimmel, will have a delicate balance on his hands. Play it too light and he’ll appear out of sync with the mood. Hammer too hard and he’ll alienate viewers already inundated by politics.
A lot of the suspense surrounding the awards has been deflated by the juggernaut of La La Land, the Golden Globe winner and favourite to win best picture. It’s up for 14 awards, tying it with Titanic and All About Eve for the record.
Last year’s telecast was hosted by Chris Rock, who introduced the show as “the White People’s Choice Awards”, but after two straight years of all-white acting nominees and the resulting “OscarsSoWhite” rancour, this year’s field is teeming with African-American actors and filmmakers, thanks to films like best-picture candidates Barry Jenkin’s coming-of-age tale Moonlight, Denzel Washington’s Fences and Theodore Melfi’s uplifting space-race drama Hidden Figures.
For the first time, an actor of colour is nominated in each acting category. A record six black actors are nominated. Four of the five films nominated for best documentary were made by black filmmakers. Bradford Young (Arrival) is the second black cinematographer ever nominated. Kimberly Steward, the financer of Manchester by the Sea, is the second black female producer nominated for best picture.
The nominations follow the efforts by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs to diversify the membership of the largely white, older and male organisation.
In June, the academy added 683 new members: 46 per cent of them were female; 41 per cent were non-white; and they came from 59 countries.