May-June 2018 Articles

The Oscars


When the actor Emil Jannings won the first Academy Award for best actor in 1929, he made no reference to economics or politics in his acceptance speech. His studio wouldn’t have allowed it. At the time, stars were bound by contract to keep their political views to themselves. Oscar night then was essentially a victory lap for being judged best in the industry by their peers.

The occasion has gone through many changes over the past 90 years. The professional accolades for individual performances and for the year’s best movies have with increasing frequency been overshadowed by intense displays of emotion, speeches about political and social issues, and the addition of a fashion parade.

When box office receipts declined, the televised ceremony began to lose viewers; and that was when fashion entered the picture as an essential part of the Oscar Night telecast.  Some viewers tuned in to see who won the highly sought after trophy while others were more interested in watching the spectacular fashion show unfold on the red carpet. That’s when donning a gorgeous Hollywood outfit while walking to the famed auditorium inside the Dolby Theatre gained a greater significance and provided a platform to articulate their viewpoints. Furthermore, those entrance interviews were considered, in some cases, a highly valued and welcomed opportunity for celebrities, both male and female alike, who perhaps had not been nominated for an Academy Award to get in on the action – often benefitting from it by establishing future business relationships.

As the award ceremony’s role has become increasingly used as a vehicle for the stars to express themselves, many other topics have gained celebrity advocacy or not, depending on the subject. President Bush’s Iraq War, the Trump administrations controversial refugee laws, gun control, the MeToo movement against the sexual abuse of women, rubbed elbows with equal pay for women in Hollywood, more women directors, and greater ethnic diversity on the big and small screen.
The 2018 Oscar Night had its seasonal share of issues, notably pointed references to all the obvious political and sexual targets. In one of his better moments attempting to make the audience laugh, for example, the presenter Jimmy Kimmel, referring to the best picture, The Shape of Water, said this was the year that “men screwed up so badly that women started dating fish.”

But there was a difference.

This year, the protest genie had popped out of the auditorium and settled on the red carpet. At the Golden Globes in January there was a movement to wear all-black to protest the explosion of harassment scandals in the show business community. At the Oscars, reported Robin Givhan, the Washington Post’s fashion editor, “In a subtle gesture of feminist solidarity, the actresses on this particular night seemed in agreement that, no matter how glamorous and costly the frock might have been it would not wear them.”

Nevertheless, against the backdrop of what seems to be an ever-changing stage, the illustrious fashion was noticed in a favorable way. Jennifer Lawrence was resplendent in Christian Dior, but it was left to the fashion house to tweet and send out news releases. Karolina Kurkova went to the Vanity Fair’s Oscar after party in a Viking outfit by Balmain. Halle Berry very nearly had on a Zuhair Murad mini with Aztec motifs. Greta Gerwig, the one nominated female director in Rodarte. Emily Ratajkowski wore Zak Posen. But on the red carpet women didn’t namecheck the designers behind the clothes as they had in the past.

“For years we’ve sold these award shows as women, with our gowns and color and beautiful faces, and our glamor,” declared Eva Longoria. Welcome to the New Red Carpet.

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