So what’s a stiff old gold guy to do?
Certainly, the results of this year’s telecast illustrated an obvious disconnect between contemporary popular taste and award show choices.
And perhaps the numbers reflected it, too. The show hit a six-year low in terms of viewership, falling 15% from last year’s telecast, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, when “12 Years a Slave” won for best picture, and Alfonso Cuaron won the best director award for "Gravity."
Though rife with awkward and unanticipated, sometimes offensive, moments, (Sean Penn’s green card joke, for example) this year’s telecast, hosted by TV and theater prodigy Neal Patrick Harris, still managed to work better than an Ambien for most of its sluggish 3-plus hours. But for those who could manage to stay the course, the show seemed jarringly at odds with its razzmatazz self right out of the gate. (And that dissonance perhaps put some people to sleep.)
This year, for the first time ever, social media agitation about the Academy’s obvious lack of diversity and continuing gender inequity seemed to have an effect. It started with Harris’ opening line, joking about honoring Hollywood's "best and whitest, sorry, brightest."
Harris seemed to have to act all night as a human apologist for the sensibility of the Academy, which, as a 2012 study revealed, is 94% white, and 76% male, with an average age of 63.
The hashtag #Oscarsowhite popped up on Twitter starting in mid January, when the nominations were announced, and it became clear that not one of the 20 acting nominees was black. The movie “Selma” got nominated for best picture and best song, but its star, David Oyelowo, got snubbed, as did its African-American director Ava DuVernay. This obviously had ramifications, since the last film that won the top prize without nominations in directing or acting categories was “Grand Hotel,” in 1932.
Perhaps in response to the constant drumbeat of social media, the show’s producers seemed to work overtime to put people of color on stage: Lupita Nyong’o, Kerry Washington, Viola Davis, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kevin Hart, Eddie Murphy, David Oyelowo, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey all presented awards.
But an attempt at inclusiveness also resulted in Harris doing a transparent, and often condescending callout of nearly every black star in the audience, seemingly as a way to say, “See, I’m dancing as fast as I can, and I’m on your side!”
It was at times painfully heavy-handed, especially when Harris was embarrassing Oprah (shades of Letterman’s bungled “Oprah-Uma” call-out.) The awkwardness only increased when NPH singled out actress Octavia Spencer, an Academy Award winner for “The Help,” to watch his box of predictions all night.
He not only gave her a specific job, but deputized two white guys to watch HER watching the box. He also warned her not to leave for snacks, a cause for certain eye-rolling.
One of the better moments for gender equity (although it too led to controversy when she added to her remarks later backstage) was when Patricia Arquette accepted her award as best actress for her part in “Boyhood.” She made an impassioned call for wage equality and equal rights for women in the U.S. Meryl Streep high-fived right from the audience.
Perhaps part of Arquette's passion was inspired by another pre-Oscar political movement on Twitter: #Askhermore. Led by Oscar nominees Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore, the idea was to urge reporters on the red carpet to ask women more substantive questions than “Who are you wearing?”
Arquette also referred to the “dreaded manicam,” a device that the E network had rolled out on the red carpet since 2012, which showed off a star’s nail polish and jewelry. In a moment of attempted feminist solidarity, E retired the red carpet for fingernails this year.
Usually, the Oscar musical numbers are ridiculed, and don't have much to do with popular music. But John Legend and Common’s powerful stage performance of the song “Glory” from “Selma” was the broadcast’s best moment, along with the moving speech that Legend made accepting his Academy Award for best song.
Of course, it helped that the most-awarded artist of the evening was Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the Mexican co-writer and director of “Birdman,” who accepted the best picture award with a plea, after his pal Sean Penn’s green card joke, for immigrant respect.
Of course, the big winner, “Birdman” was a movie about a burned-out, middle-aged white guy making a comeback.
Baby steps, old gold man. If nothing else, do it for the ratings.