How the Oscars made peace with #MeToo but ignored all else to reward accused men

90th Academy Awards - Oscars Backstage - HollywoodWhile the network and Hollywood’s all-powerful Academy are yet to react to the poor show on TV, despite super host Jimmy Kimmel being in charge, one can safely guess that the current 18 to 40 viewer’s swift changeover in loyalties to online streamed shows and increased appetite for viewing online has affected appointment viewing.

Additionally, Kimmel’s frequent criticism of President Trump could have turned off a section of audiences in America.

And a second major factor could be the fact that the Oscars didn’t pack any punches. It incorporated the potentially volatile #MeToo movement and #TimesUp campaign comfortably in its program rundown order with three victims of Harvey Weinstein, dressed in their best, sharing a diversity video; a far cry from straight forward activism. It didn’t surprise with a single upset and awarded those that were predicted to be winners. (The Shape of Water for Best Film, Guillermo Del Toro for Best Director, Allison Janney for Best Supporting Actress, etc), It is entirely possible that viewers, having tuned in, might have tuned out once predictability and boredom settled in.

The zingiest bit about the Oscar ceremony came at the end when Frances McDormand won Best Actress and saluted women power of female nominees. Otherwise, this Swarvoski crystals-studded night clearly established the most obvious fact — the Oscars remain an elite club, where they award their own without paying much attention to accusations of abuse, harassment or morally wrong deeds.

The most visible win that reflects that Oscars come to some anyway, is Gary Oldman. He won Best Actor for his performance as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour. Oldman’s ex-wife Donya Fiorentino has accused Oldman of domestic abuse in the past, stating that he tried to squeeze her neck, and hit her on the face, in front of their crying children during a domestic fight. Fiorentino has a history of pain killer addiction and shared past of alcohol addiction with the actor.

Oldman called her a liar, won custody of their children and never clarified his stand. Fiorentino has lost no time is also pointing out that the Oscars awarded an abuser. Oldman is known to mouth abuse during interviews, abusing Democrat Party leader Nancy Pelosi during one such session.

He has also called Mel Gibson a ‘victim’ of ‘a Jewish conspiracy’; clearly an actor whose immense talent overshadows his temperamental problems. Yet Oldman received a standing ovation when he went onstage to collect his trophy.
A British actor who had chosen to make Hollywood his home, Oldman is also known to fraternize and socialize with those who matter at the studios.

As Kobe Bryant won an Oscar for best animated short for Dear Basketball, accusations of rape and out of court settlements that the basketball star has been part of, were put on the back burner. A 19-year-old hotel employee accused Bryant of rape in 2003, which he denied forcefully till authorities linked DNA evidence to him. He tried deflecting these accusations by calling it a consensual extramarital encounter, and then proceeded to settle a civil case out of court.

He also issued a long, heavily worded statement, stating that the woman had not been paid off to buy her silence, and that she had not viewed their sexual encounter as consensual. In brief, he admitted to rape. But none of that interfered with his stratospheric rise to NBA demigod. Now, with two active social media campaigns waging war against sexual abuse and harassment, Bryant’s Oscar especially rankles. It indicates that the Academy will reward it’s own kind, despite a changing social climate.

Jimmy Kimmel cracked a joke during his speech when he referred to Weinstein’s expulsion from the Academy. The only other member to have been expelled EARLIER was a video editor who had shared a screener (special DVD prints of nominated films) with someone who wasn’t a member. The quantum of punishment for both was the same.
Ironically, this puts the spotlight on a continuous relationship that the Academy awards have with men accused of abuse, rape and harassment. It took the people-driven, volatile and visible #MeToo Campaign this year to exclude erstwhile certified abusers — Roman Polanski and Woody Allen.

Regularly accused by people of lack of representation of Hispanic, Black and Asian talent, the Academy has expanded its membership by 774 new voting members from diverse ethnicities. From India, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Salman Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, Irrfan Khan and Aamir Khan have voting rights.

The Academy never discloses which members participated in a particular round of voting.

The presence of diversity was also evident in key nominations this year with Rachel Morrison becoming the first female cinematographer in the awards’ 90-year history to be nominated for Best Cinematography; and Vanessa Taylor being a rare co-nominee in the Best Original Screenplay category for The Shape of Water. Greta Gerwig became only the fifth woman to get nominated for Best Director ever.

Yet, the Academy chose to award those who were tipped to win, utilizing these nominations smartly to deflect criticism and accusations of bias. That The Shape of Water, accused of plagiarism (by respected playwright Paul Zindel, of having been adapted from his play <Let Me Hear You Whisper>) won four Oscars indicates that fair play isn’t always priority for Hollywood’s elite.

The Oscars scored a victory when it had the trio of Ashley Judd, Anabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek onstage together to highlight that abuse, harassment and general bad behavior at the workplace will not be accepted.

Yet, in its contradictory approach towards Kobe Bryant and Gary Oldman, it also reflected that beyond tokenism, there is still a lot to change about applause and accolades within this powerful film fraternity.

Add to that the fact that Ryan Seacrest, accused of sexual harassment by his personal assistant, hosted the much-viewed E! Oscar show on the red carpet, and you know that it’s business as usual at the movies.

The late John Heard, also accused of stalking and harassment, found his spot in the In Memoriam section.
In tacit acceptance of ‘boys will be boys’ behaviour from some, the Oscar awards give legitimacy to menfolk who might lose work because of accusations of bad behaviour, violent behaviour and sexual harassment.

But the awards must know that in incorporation of radical movements within its smooth flow, the Oscar awards risk being relegated to stuff that the young and woke don’t like to watch.

Being in touch with one’s evolving audience is very important for those who make films. Perhaps this can explain why the Oscar awards were such a poor show on TV this year. It simply didn’t get the people’s pulse.