QJ Pop: Awkward & apologetic Academy Awards disappoints

It was Oscar night this past Sunday, and everything was — most decidedly — not awesome.

Maclean’s Jamie Weineman even referred to the 87th Academy Awards as a night of “guilt and shame”. After weeks of intense criticism and scrutiny regarding the nominations, the ceremony felt apologetic and heavy under the weight of its own self-consciousness.

The first joke of the night heralded the coming onslaught of politically charged moments, with host Neil Patrick Harris welcoming audiences to “the best and whitest — I mean brightest” night in Hollywood.

Later Harris joked that the $160,000 gift bags given to each nominated performer included “an armored car ride to safety when the revolution comes.”

The annual award show functions as a kind of State of the Union address for pop culture, marking the relevant issues of the year, signalling trends to come and going on for way, way too long.

This year, the burning issues were disease-related awareness, immigration reform and gender and racial inequality.

The discussion of gender inequality started on the red carpet, as actresses like Reese Witherspoon took to social media with the request to #AskHerMore.

This initiative intended to engage actresses in more thoughtful conversations about their accomplishments. “We are more than our dresses,” Witherspoon told one interviewer on the red carpet. #AskHerMore grew out of The Representation Project, an organization designed to provide educational resources.

The organization was inspired by the 2011 documentary Miss Representation, which examined gender representations in the media.

The gender conversation continued into the ceremony, with Patricia Arquette using her precious victory speech seconds to call for wage equality in America.

Those victory speech seconds were also used by best actress winner Julianne Moore and best actor winner Eddie Redmayne to discuss Alzheimer’s disease and ALS, respectively.

Redmayne, who had faced criticism as an able-bodied actor playing someone with ALS, accepted his award with the self-conscious tone of the evening.

He said he was “fully aware” that he was a “lucky, lucky man”, adding that his Oscar “belonged to those people ... battling ALS.” Redmayne’s win is particularly relevant after a year of ice-bucket challenge videos and fundraising for ALS.

The issue of immigration reform in America and the growing call to include Mexicans in equity dialogue was represented in Alejandro G. Inarritu’s win. The Birdman director claimed the award for best picture.

Upon accepting the Oscar, Inarritu asked that Mexicans living in America “be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”

Sean Penn’s crack — “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?” — before announcing Birdman’s win induced a collective groan, and seemed to reinforce the evening’s anxious desire to check its privilege.

The most inspiring of the political moments came from Common and John Legend’s performance of “Glory” from Selma, and the pair’s subsequent speech after winning for best original song.

After bringing the audience to tears, Legend eloquently said, “Selma is now because the struggle for justice is now. We know that the voting rights that [the civil rights activists] fought for 50 years ago are being compromised in this country today.”

With all 20 performance nominees and 94 per cent of the Academy voters being white, Selma’s moment of protest couldn’t have been more relevant or poignant.

The awards weren’t wholly without any light moments, however.

Neil Patrick Harris’ opening musical number was Harris doing what the Tony award winner does best. With the help of Anna Kendrick and Jack Black, the performance started the show on a high note.

Other highlights included Lady Gaga startling the von Trapp out of us with a brilliant Julie Andrews-approved Sound of Music medley — in honour of the musical film’s 50th anniversary, — and J.K. Simmons’ advice to call our parents to tell them we loved them.

All of this, however, couldn’t save the show from flat jokes, awkward moments and a dismal drop in ratings, with the lowest viewership since 2009.

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