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The question of sexual abuse and Hollywood hung heavy over yesterday’s Academy Awards ceremony, especially with some key Oscar winners and their histories.
While the minds behind #TimesUp—a movement in solidarity with survivors of sexual abuse—decided not to protest the Oscars, the movement’s presence was strong in both speeches and in public critique.
Best Actress Winner Frances McDormand’s battlecry for inclusion riders—a contractual requirement that both the cast and crew be diverse—shines as a positive attempt to rectify the gender and racial inequality of Hollywood. Salma Hayek and fellow Harvey Weinstein accusers Ashley Judd and Annabella Scorria presented a video montage and stirring speech about equality and representation. The disgraced and accused were mostly out of sight: Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and James Franco were not present.
However, the Oscars have been widely taken to task for awarding Gary Oldman, accused of hitting his wife with a telephone, with the Best Actor award for portraying the highly controversial, war-mongering Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour”. No charges were filed and Oldman categorically denied the allegations that he “hit [Donya Fiorentino] in the face with the telephone receiver three or four times” when she reportedly was trying to call the police. Oldman is also notorious for his defense of Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic remarks: “Mel Gibson is in a town that's run by Jews and he said the wrong thing because he's actually bitten the hand that I guess has fed him – and doesn't need to feed him anymore because he's got enough dough.”
Kobe Bryant, an unlikely candidate for an Academy Award, went home with an Oscar for Best Animated Short. “Dear Basketball” was based on Bryant’s poem announcing his retirement. But a basketball superstar winning the Oscar is not what makes this moment noteworthy: Bryant was arrested in 2003 for sexual assault after a hotel employee accused him of rape. His accuser refused to testify, and so the case was dropped. Bryant claimed the encounter was consensual, and settled a civil lawsuit.
Giullermo Del Toro, whose comeback “The Shape of Water”received both critical acclaim and derision, won Best Director, while his film won Best Picture. But let’s not forget that Del Toro is one of many Hollywood celebrities who have publicly defended Roman Polanski. Polanski was convicted of drugging and raping a 13-year-old child. He fled the country years ago to avoid time for statutory rape. Del Toro and other Polanski supports have been criticized for wearing the #TimesUp pin.
Gender wins at the Oscars were few and far between--Rachel Morrison, the first woman cinematographer to ever be nominated for an Oscar, did not win. Neither did Greta Gerwig, the first woman to be nominated for Best Director for a debut film, and only the fifth woman nominated ever. For that matter, Lady Bird, the most highly reviewed movie on Rotten Tomatoes, did not win anything at all, even though it was nominated in five categories.
Ryan Seacrest, accused of sexual misconduct by his former stylist, interviewed celebrities on the red carpet for E!—but all Best Actress nominees completely skipped him. Taraji P. Henson did stop to talk to him, though many inferred shade from her comments. (Henson has denied this.) “They really shouldn’t send him [to the Oscars],” said Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement. “"We shouldn’t have to make those choices of, 'Do we or don’t we?'”
But women still have to make that individual-level choice—and if accused abusers’ careers continue to flourish after violence and public critique—one could say that Hollywood is not only still making room for them, but actively engaging and promoting them.
See the complete list of winners here.
(Photo: L-R Actors Sam Rockwell, Frances McDormand, Allison Janney, and Gary Oldman, pose with their Oscars during the 90th Annual Academy Awards on March 4, 2018. By FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)