The Oscar And The Helix: Changing The Academy's DNA

  • by February 25, 2015
Hey, Oscar. These days, your whole campy, top-hat-and-jazz-handsy dance is wildly out of step. You’ve become your own Botoxed, bloated parody.

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.

12 comments about "The Oscar And The Helix: Changing The Academy's DNA".
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  1. Abby Young from Cramer Krasselt, February 26, 2015 at 11:01 a.m.

    12 Years a Slave did not win Best Director in 2014.

  2. Barbara Lippert from, February 26, 2015 at 11:42 a.m.

    Abby- thanks for the correction. It was Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity. Will fix!

  3. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, February 26, 2015 at 2:47 p.m.

    Selma did not deserve Best Picture. The actor who portrayed The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. did not do a good job either. (Doctor King was the greatest orator ever put on recording or film and trying to be him when he is still so vivid in our memories is perhaps impossible. Although, lately portrayals of real people have won Best Actor awards and gotten lots of nominations, this may have been one performance that truly fell short.) The Academy just last year awarded portrayals of Afro-Americans and gay aids victims, and in this century has been notably accurate in its winners, having recovered from Ms.Paltrow in 1998.

  4. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, February 26, 2015 at 2:49 p.m.

    Thanks, Barbara, for refusing to toe the line with the rest of the media. All of these awards shows are such pathetically overdone promotional pageants. I watch as little as possible, and I wouldn't watch at all if the quality Sunday night shows were on against them.

  5. Barbara Lippert from, February 26, 2015 at 2:52 p.m.

    Tom- as was painfully shown by Harris when he forced the Selma actor to read from a cue card from his seat, Oyelowo has a slightly high pitched voice and British accent in real life. I though he sounded just like MLK.

  6. Barbara Lippert from, February 26, 2015 at 9:53 p.m.

    as a postscript to #askhermore, the whole who are you wearing schtick was invented by Joan Rivers, who was left out of the In Memoriam presentation, a terrible omission. But she too, could probably separate the industry she created, (stars using teams of stylists, pr machines, borrowing from jewelers, etc to avoid the next dead goose moment in red carpet-wear) with the true hard work of women in the industry.

  7. Barbara Lippert from, February 26, 2015 at 9:54 p.m.

    also, Gaga killed as a cross between Julie Andrews and the Good Witch.

  8. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, February 26, 2015 at 11:42 p.m.

    I'm a cynical New Yorker who was thoroughly entertained by the telecast. In fact, after watching it live I've been replaying favorite moments all week, e.g., Meryl Streep's beautiful intro of "In Memoriam"; Julie Andrew's embrace of Lady Gaga; the performances by Adam Levine, Tim McGraw, Common and John Legend; the woman whose gown had fur balls dangling off it that would do Cher proud; Idina Menzel and John Travolta's playfulness; the funny speech by the director of "Ida" (one of the few movies I saw that was nominated) and Graham Moore's touching acceptance where he urged teens to embrace their weirdness. I must admit, however, that my patience was tested by NPH's dreadful Oscar predictions shtick that was dead on arrival.

  9. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, February 27, 2015 at 8:30 a.m.

    Cynical New Yorkers were more rewarded by switching to AMC and catching the latest episode of The Walking Dead as the survivors reached the outskirts of a city where the dead do more than walk: Washington DC.

  10. Jim English from The Met Museum, February 27, 2015 at 7:16 p.m.

    Thanks for those numbers, Barbara, Academy members are 94% white and 76% male. I had always assumed that Oscar winners were selected from a much more diverse group.

  11. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, March 2, 2015 at 8:57 a.m.

    AND THE Nobel Prize committee is a whole bunch of white folks from Norway, but they seem able to award on merit, however controversial and bonkers some of their Peace Prize winners are. The Academy of late seems also to be able to choose on merit. For example, being 76% male, they choose a Best Actress every year without fail. (That was a joke, however weak.)

  12. Hesh Rephun from Raging Artists, March 2, 2015 at 10:50 a.m.

    Great article, Barbara! What troubles me most these days is our political correctness: it reveals how fearful we are of the prejudice that still exists within our society. We can't make jokes about race, because society is still more racist than it wants to admit. SNL can't spoof ISIS via Toyota, without somehow "offending" the US military... and NPH can't host the Oscars without being deathly afraid of everyone, so we should not be surprised by his stiffness and the tepid results. :(

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