At the outset of the very unusual Oscarcast, Regina King noted the Derek Chauvin verdict this past week in Minneapolis, telling viewers, “If things had gone differently this week in Minneapolis, I may had to trade in my heels for marching boots.”
Then, she added, “I know that a lot of you at home want to reach for your remote when you feel like Hollywood is preaching to you but as a mother of a Black son, I know the fear that so many live with and no amount of fame or fortune changes that.”
Her remark was an acknowledgement that yes, a share of the audience does tune out if they believe Hollywood is trying to send them a message; but it also was an acknowledgement that this past year, of all years, was not one to just ignore what’s been happening on the streets, with the country going through a political, societal and cultural racial reckoning.
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Inspiring speeches were the standout moments of the more intimate, Union Station setting. But given the turbulence of the past year, along with the selection of the nominees, other figures had much more to say about the police shootings of Black men and women.
Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe, co-directors of the winning short film Two Distant Strangers, wore jackets that included the names of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others killed by police officers, a theme of their project. Free said, “Today, the police will kill three people, and tomorrow the police will kill three people, and the day after that, the police will kill three people, because on average, every day, the police kill three people, which amounts to about a thousand people a year, and those people happen to be disproportionately Black people.”
“James Baldwin once said, ‘The most despicable thing a person can be is to be indifferent to other people’s pain. And so I just ask that you please not be indifferent.”
Never one to pass up a moment for cultural polarization, Fox News quickly seized on the comments, headlining their FoxNews.com Oscar story with, “‘Police Kill’: Rich Hollywood elite turns Oscars into far-left hate speech targeting cops and it doesn’t stop there.” Below it was a sidebar of “The Oscars attendees going maskless.”
The winners for animated short If Anything Happens I Love You, which delves the grief of parents following school shootings, dedicated their Oscar to the victims of gun violence.
“There is nothing more tragic than losing a child, which is one reason school shootings are so heartbreaking,” wrote former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose Everytown for Gun Safety supported the project.
With more time given for acceptance speeches, winners did have more time for political statements, but they also had more time to tell their own backstories, fulfilling a goal of producers to showcase a diversity of backgrounds hardly rooted in the red carpet. It didn’t always work — winners went down the list of those to thank — but stronger were the words of reconciliation. Chloe Zhao, only the second woman to win best director, for Nomadland, recalled a game she would play with her father, reciting classic Chinese poems. A favorite was the phrase, “People at birth are entirely good.”
“This is for anyone who has the faith and courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves and to hold onto the goodness in each other,” she said.
Later, Tyler Perry, winner of the Jean Hershholt Humanitarian Award, devoted a large portion of his speech to the simple message, “Refuse hate.”
“Don’t hate anybody,” he said. “I refuse to hate someone because they are Mexican. Or because they are Black. Or white. Or LGBTQ. I refuse to hate someone because they are a police officer. I refuse to hate someone because they are Asian. I would hope that we would refuse hate. And I want to take this Jean Hershholt Humanitarian Award and dedicate it to anyone who wants to stand in the middle, no what’s around the walls, stand in the middle, because that is where healing happens, that is where conversation happens, that is where change happens. It happens in the middle.”