By Heidi Stevens
Six years ago, Daniel Day-Lewis took home the best actor Oscar for “Lincoln,” Jennifer Lawrence won best actress for “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Argo” nabbed best picture … and Seth MacFarlane opened the whole shebang with a loathsome little ditty called “We Saw Your Boobs.”
Actresses, many called out by name (Kristen Stewart we saw your boobs in “On The Road,” and in “Monster” we saw Charlize Theron’s), sat in the audience looking appalled as MacFarlane cheerfully belted out his song-and-dance number.
Critics panned it. “This wasn’t an awards ceremony so much as a black-tie celebration of the straight white male gaze,” Margaret Lyons wrote for Vulture at the time.
And, according to MacFarlane, the academy invited him back to host the following year. (He told the WTF podcast that he was filming “A Million Ways to Die in the West” at the time and was unable to work the Oscars into his schedule.)
I bring this up to illustrate two points.One: The Oscars have set an extremely low bar for programming that is, if not exactly feminist, at least not outwardly hostile toward women.
Two: In 2019, they finally cleared it.
This year’s Oscars show may, in fact, have been the most feminist Academy Awards in recent memory. (Again, low bar.)
Still …A record number of female nominees took home Oscars this year, 15, up from the previous record of 12 in 2014 and 2016.
Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler, two of the 15, were the first black nominees to win Oscars in their categories.
Carter won the costume design Oscar for “Black Panther” (and appeared to have coordinated her note cards with her stunning gown).”This has been a long time coming,” Carter said in her acceptance speech. (She was nominated for “Amistad” in 1997 and “Malcolm X” in 1992.)
Beachler took home the Oscar for production design, also for her work on “Black Panther.”Comedy dream team Maya Rudoloph,
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler opened the show and were pitch-perfect doing so. (“Good evening and welcome to the 1 millionth Academy Awards,” Fey said. “We are not your hosts, but we’re going to stand here a little too long, so the people who get USA Today tomorrow will think that we hosted.”)
A movie about menstruation won an Oscar. “Period. End Of Sentence,” about Indian women’s fight for accessible hygiene products, won the award for best documentary short.”I’m not crying because I’m on my period, or anything,” 25-year-old director Rayka Zehtabchi said as she accepted the Oscar, surrounded by an all-female crew.
Even the commercials were fierce, from Charlize Theron’s Budweiser spot that shows the actress handily defeating a bar full of dudes at pool, darts, video boxing, and arm wrestling, to the Serena Williams-narrated Nike commercial titled “Dream Crazier.””If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic,” Williams says in the ad, as clips of gymnast Simone Biles, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, snowboarder Chloe Kim and other female athletes flash across the screen. “If we want to play against men, we’re nuts. And if we dream of equal opportunity, we’re delusional. When we stand for something, we’re unhinged. When we’re too good, there’s something wrong with us. And if we get angry, we’re hysterical, irrational or just being crazy.””But a woman running a marathon was crazy,” Williams continues. “A woman boxing was crazy. A woman dunking, crazy. Coaching an NBA team, crazy. A woman competing in a hijab; changing her sport; landing a double-cork 1080; or winning 23 grand slams, having a baby and then coming back for more, crazy, crazy, crazy and crazy. … So if they want to call you crazy, fine. Show them what crazy can do.”
The Cut called the commercial “the best thing about the Oscars.”
It may have been, during a different Oscars. This year, though? This year was different. Better. Less like the women were there as decorations and foils, more like the women were there to be honored for their formidable talents and culture-shaping, zeitgeist-reflecting achievements.
“When we’re young, we all have dreams of what we can accomplish in life,” Williams said from the Oscars stage, introducing a clip from best picture-nominated “A Star Is Born.””Having the dream is easy,” she said. “Making it come true is hard. Whether that dream is becoming an actor, a tennis player or a singer, like Ali in ‘A Star Is Born.’ … There’s the rush of fame, the pressure of success, and the heartache that comes with sacrificing love for career, or career for love.”
A much fairer, friendlier assessment of the female experience, both on-screen and off-, than, say, “We Saw Your Boobs.”We’ve come a long-ish way in six years, baby. Let’s keep going.