Oscars 2018 commentary: Inclusion is the theme and promise, but Frances McDormand’s call for more action steals the show

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Frances McDormand stars in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." Fox Searchlight photo

Frances McDormand stars in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Fox Searchlight photo

Frances McDormand undoubtedly sent people rushing to their Google search bars as she figuratively dropped the mic on her Oscar acceptance speech with “two words: ‘inclusion rider.’”

Most people are at least somewhat familiar with riders, which are provisional clauses in contracts, and an inclusion rider basically would be a clause that an actor would put into a contract to ensure gender and racial equality in the hiring for the project.

“I just found out about this last week. There has always been available to all, everybody who does a negotiation on a film, which means you can ask for or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only the casting and the crew. The fact that I just learned that after 35 years in the film business – we aren’t going back,” McDormand said backstage at tonight’s 90th Academy Awards, where she won best actress for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Even if not everyone in Hollywood knows specifically about inclusion riders, many in the film industry tonight seemed to at least somewhat grasp the concept and importance of inclusion.

It was a big theme at tonight’s Oscars.

Mexican-born auteur’s Guillermo del Toro’s grown-up fairy tale about a mute cleaning woman who falls in love with an imprisoned Fish Man — a story he has expressly said is about inspiring empathy for the other – won four Oscars, including best picture and best director. He proudly declared himself an immigrant in one of his acceptance speeches.

“The best thing our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand — we should continue doing that,” he said.

Annabella Sciorra, Ashley Judd and Salma Hayek — just three of the women who have spoken out against Harvey Weinstein, who was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last year after two newspaper investigations into allegations against him lit the match on the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements seeking to end sexual harassment in the workplace – were visibly emotional as they introduced a video about some of the strides that were made toward racial and gender equality this year in the film industry and beyond.

Kumail Nanjiani, nominee for best original screenplay for his autobiographical film “The Big Sick,” was my favorite to appear in that video. He said when he was a kid he fell in love with lots of films starring and made by white guys, and now white kids can fall in love with movies starring and made by people like him.

“That’s how this works,” he said.

There were definitely some milestones to celebrate, like Jordan Peele becoming the first black writer to win with his best original screenplay victor for his socially conscious thriller “Get Out.”

“I stopped writing this movie about 20 times because I thought it was impossible. I thought it wasn’t going to work. I thought no one would ever make this movie. But I kept coming back to it, because I knew if someone let me make this movie, that people would hear it and people would see it,” he said in accepting the award. “I want to dedicate this to all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie”

Native American actor Wes Studi, an Oklahoma native who is Cherokee, appeared on the broadcast to talk about his service in Vietnam and pay tribute to military movies and the servicemen and women who inspired them. And he introduced one of the ceremony’s many montages in Cherokee as well as in English.

Daniela Vega, star of best foreign-language film winner “A Fantastic Woman,” which brought the country of Chile its first-ever Oscar, became the first openly transgender presenter in Oscars history.

A family-friendly adventure centered on Mexico’s Day of the Dead traditions, Disney/Pixar’s “Coco,” one of the largest U.S. productions ever to feature a mostly Latino cast, won best animated film. Writer-director Lee Unkrich (who penned and helmed the movie with Adrian Molina, who is of Mexican descent), in his acceptance speech offered “the biggest thank you of all to the people of Mexico. Coco would not exist without your endlessly beautiful culture and traditions.”

“Representation matters,” Unkrich added.

It was a theme his colleagues Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez also spoke on as they won best original song for the “Coco” theme song “Remember Me.” Anderson-Lopez noted that the nominees in the category were not only racially and ethnically diverse but almost 50/50 in terms of gender representation.

“When you look at a category like ours, it helps to imagine a world where all the categories look like this one,” she said.

And you could see the diversity as well as hear it during the best original song showcases.

But it was clear that there was still work to be done during the Oscars: Emma Stone introduced the nominees for best director as “these four men and Greta Gerwig.” Gerwig was just the fifth woman in Oscars history to be nominated for best director, after Lina Wertmuller (“Seven Beauties”), Jane Campion (“The Piano”), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”) and Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”). Bigelow remains the only woman to win the best director Oscar.

Although Gal Gadot was prominently featured during the Oscars telecast, her breakout film, Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman,” was completely left out of the Oscars picture, despite its critical and commercial success and groundbreaking status as the first female-focused superhero blockbuster. Oscars Host Jimmy Kimmel even cracked wise about the snub, laughingly predicting that the current blockbuster “Black Panther,” which has earned the same sort of “Wonder Woman” enthusiasm with its black hero and predominantly black cast, could be the meaningful superhero movie that the Academy ignores next year.

And there’s the fact that Hollywood is really good at acting in the sense that the industry often says it stands for something while actually doing something completely different. The industry says it’s getting the inclusion message. But as previously reported, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University recently released its annual “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World,” and the number of female protagonists was down 5 percent in 2017’s 100 top-grossing films, even though the top three of those movies were fronted by female characters. This year’s study found that females comprised 24 percent of protagonists last year, a drop from 29 percent in 2016.

Which brings us back to McDormand’s speech, which only ended with the not-so-subtle hint that actors should start going for inclusion riders to ensure movies are made by diverse casts and crew.

“I’m hyperventilating. If I fall over pick me up, because I’ve got some things to say,” McDormand said, continuing at theme that she has used on her acceptance speeches throughout awards season.

“If I may be so honored to have all the female nominees in categories stand with me tonight, the actors, the filmmakers, the directors, the producers, the writers, the cinematographers, the composers, the designers,” she said, inviting the nominated women in the audience to get on their feet.

And she asked the big-name producers and studio executives in the bedazzled Dolby Theater to look around – and more importantly, listen up.

“We all have stories to tell and projects we need financed,” McDormand said. “Don’t talk to us about it at the parties tonight. Invite us into your office in a couple days, or you can come to ours, whatever suits you best and we’ll tell you all about them.”

If that happens, then we’ll see more of the change that was so often promised during tonight’s festivities.

To see the full list of tonight’s Oscar winners, click here.



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