Hollywood. Say the word and several others come to mind: liberal, self-absorbed, vain, liberal, rich, surgically altered, liberal. Say Oscar, and the same words apply, only more so.
I’ve enjoyed bashing Hollywood as much as the next reasonably sane person, and Hollywood has deserved much of the abuse. Yet, despite the history that created the redundant cliché — Hollywood liberals — Sunday night’s 74th annual Academy Awards did much to shift our perceptions.
There were still plenty of collagen lips and absurdly expensive vanity ornamentation, including actress Laura Elena Harring’s $1 million sandals. And there’s no escaping the self-adulatory nature of the awards program. On the other hand, except for the absence of glamour and glitz, are journalism’s Pulitzers really any different?
But journalism does important work, huffs the Fourth Estate. Indeed, on occasion, so does Hollywood. If a picture says a thousand words, a movie says a zillion. Sunday night, Hollywood trumped itself with grand gestures and poignant social statements.
The program offered just the right mix of humor and gravitas at this serious and sensitive juncture in American history. While important values — racial equality and artistic freedom among them — were touted, cynicism and derision were notably absent.
Without being jingoistic, the program saluted America, the courage of all veterans of all wars, and the slain heroes of 9/11. At one point, actor Kevin Spacey asked the crowd to stand for a moment of silence. Without flags, anthems or fanfare, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences managed to project a spirit of solidarity.
Also notable was the absence of negativity or jokes directed at the Republican White House or President George W. Bush. Attorney General John Ashcroft got a small poke from host Whoopi Goldberg when she draped a scarf around the hips of an Oscar statue onstage. Ashcroft had a curtain hung in front of the “Spirit of Justice” statue in the hall where he gives press conferences on account of the statue’s bared breast.
Otherwise? Even Barbra Streisand exercised restraint on politics; Julia Roberts, likewise. Alec Baldwin apparently has left for Cuba; he was nowhere in sight. Maybe somebody sent out a memo that the evening should be free of politics. Whatever the impetus, the Academy succeeded in communicating that there’s a time and a place, and now is not the time for partisanship. Listening, Washington?
The awards themselves were symbolically uniting. As everybody knows by now, Best Actor awards went to Denzel Washington and Halle Berry. Washington was the second African-American after Sidney Poitier some 40 years ago, to win the top male acting award; Berry was the first African-American to win best actress. As Berry tearfully said, “This moment is so much bigger than me.”
Poitier, the first black man ever to carry a title role, accepted an honorary Oscar for his remarkable career. His eloquent acceptance speech, his elegance and humility — not to mention his amazing handsomeness — make him my nominee for Ambassador at Large. If there’s a white supremacist left in America after a year of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, let him hold the door for Poitier.
Finally, one can’t help noting, God and family were everywhere evident. Winners repeatedly and unabashedly thanked and blessed God. “God is great,” said Washington. And nearly everybody thanked their families above all others — moms, dads, wives, husbands and children.
The evening was groundbreaking in important ways, not the least of which may be a new Hollywood image —more humble, more grown-up, more wholesome and, dare we say it? More conservative.