Oscars take on issues beyond #OscarsSoWhite; ‘Spotlight’ takes Best Picture

Published 10:32 am Monday, February 29, 2016

LOS ANGELES — Hollywood’s diversity crisis has loomed large over awards season and the big question going into the 88th annual Academy Awards was whether it would dominate the ceremony, too. It did, of course, but it wasn’t alone.

The evening turned out to be a platform not just for racial representation in the movies, led by host Chris Rock’s incisive insight and parody, but a wide array of causes, from global warming and bank reform to sexual abuse in church and on campus. It was a subtle plea from the film community that the movies and artists honored at Sunday night’s ceremony did have purpose and meaning — even in this second year of #OscarsSoWhite.

The “Spotlight” team, which won the first and last prize of the night — best original screenplay and best picture — and nothing else, celebrated the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of The Boston Globe journalists who exposed sex abuses in the Roman Catholic Church and the conversation the film has renewed around the world.

Email newsletter signup

Leonardo DiCaprio, the forgone best-actor winner for “The Revenant,” used the platform to talk about his life’s passion outside of acting — climate change, which got a “thank you” from the official White House Instagram account.

Adam McKay and Charlies Randolph, who won for best adapted screenplay for “The Big Short,” spoke about the need for finance reform.

And Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, whose “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” spoke to the impact of her film.

“This week, the Pakistani prime minister said he would change the law on honor killing of women,” said Obaid-Chinoy, who was also the only female director to win an award at Sunday’s ceremony. “That is the power of film.”

In some ways, the Oscars have always been a place where winners use the podium and their 45 seconds to opine on causes directly or indirectly related to the movies, from Sacheen Littlefeather’s speech about Native American rights 43 years ago to Patricia Arquette’s call last year for pay equality for women.

But perhaps no ceremony has had such a pointed target, and nothing this year could eclipse #OscarsSoWhite, which was woven into the fabric of the show, thanks to Rock. He launched immediately into the uproar over the lack of diversity in this year’s nominees, and didn’t let up, dubbing the show “The White People’s Choice Awards” at the start.

Rock ensured that the topic remained at the forefront throughout the proceedings, usually finding hearty laughs in the process.

In an award show traditionally known for song-and-dance routines and high doses of glamour, Rock gave the 88th Academy Awards a charged atmosphere, keeping with the outcry that followed a second straight year of all-white acting nominees.

Streaks, broken and extended, dominated much of the evening, with an expected best actress win to Brie Larson for her breakout performance in the mother-son captive drama “Room” and a best supporting actress win for Swedish actress Alicia Vikander for the transgender pioneer tale “The Danish Girl.”

Gasps went around the Dolby when Mark Rylance won best supporting actor for Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” over Sylvester Stallone. Nominated a second time for the role of Rocky Balboa 39 years later, Stallone had been expected to win his first acting Oscar for the “Rocky” sequel “Creed.”

The night’s most-awarded film, however, went to neither “Spotlight” nor “The Revenant.” George Miller’s post-apocalyptic chase film, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” sped away with six awards in technical categories for editing, makeup, production design, sound editing, sound mixing and costume design.

Alejando Inarritu, whose win for “The Revenant” meant three straight years of Mexican filmmakers winning best director and his second consecutive win, was one of the few recipients to remark passionately on diversity in his acceptance speech.

List of winners at Sunday’s 88th annual Academy Awards presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Best Picture: “Spotlight.”

Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant.”

Actress: Brie Larson, “Room.”

Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies.”

Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl.”

Directing: Alejandro G. Inarritu, “The Revenant.”

Foreign Language Film: “Son of Saul.”

Adapted Screenplay: “The Big Short.”

Original Screenplay: “Spotlight.”

Animated Feature Film: “Inside Out.”

Production Design: “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Cinematography: “The Revenant.”

Sound Mixing: “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Sound Editing: “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Original Score: “The Hateful Eight.”

Original Song: “Writing’s on the Wall” from “Spectre.”

Costume Design: “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Documentary Feature: “Amy.”

Documentary (short subject): “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.”

Film Editing: “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Makeup and Hairstyling: “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Animated Short Film: “Bear Story.”

Live Action Short Film: “Stutterer.”

Visual Effects: “Ex Machina.”