Not everyone relishes watching the Academy Awards for four hours. But for those of us who love feature films and documentaries with an important message, the Oscars are a way of acknowledging the talent, hard work, perseverance, and accomplishments of screenwriters, directors, actors, hair & make-up artists, costume designers, stylists, music composers, sound engineers, cinematographers, film editors, visual effects experts, prop masters, production designers, and everyone else it takes to create these “celluloid” pieces of art.
In the 95 years that the Academy Awards have been around (since 1928), many of the Best Picture nominees and winners have broken ground—racially, socially, culturally, economically, environmentally, sexually, religiously, and politically—and left their indelible mark on Hollywood’s history.
People of a certain age remember—and those of a much younger generation may want to discover—the magic and brilliance of great films like:
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930 & 2023); Gone With the Wind (1939); Casablanca (1943); Ben-Hur (1959); West Side Story (1961 & 2021); Lawrence of Arabia (1962); My Fair Lady (1964); The Sound of Music (1965); In the Heat of the Night (1967); Midnight Cowboy (1969); The Godfather (1972); The Sting (1973); Rocky (1976); Annie Hall (1977); Gandhi (1982); Out of Africa (1985); The Last Emperor (1987); Rain Man (1988); Dances with Wolves (1990); Schindler’s List (1993); Forrest Gump (1994); Braveheart (1995); Gladiator (2000); A Beautiful Mind (2001); The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003); Crash (2005); Slumdog Millionaire (2008); The King’s Speech (2010); Argo (2012); 12 Years a Slave (2013); Spotlight (2015); Green Book (2019); Nomadland (2021); and CODA (2022).
I’m not a film critic, nor a diversity expert, but I do know that the Academy Awards have become more inclusive since the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite went viral in 2015.
In 2017, Barry Jenkins’ film Moonlight—about a black child who struggles with his sexuality—won Best Picture; and the Best Supporting Actor and Actress award went to Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis.
In 2019, Green Book—a comedy-drama about the real life black classical/jazz pianist, Don Shirley, who encountered racial prejudice in the Deep South— won Best Picture; and once again Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for that same film, while Regina King won Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk, another Jenkins directed film that was based on a book by the prolific author James Baldwin, who was a spokesman for the civil rights movement.
In 2020, the South Korean comedy-thriller Parasite (which I did not see) won Best Picture, and Bong Joon-ho won Best Director.
And in 2021, CODA, which stands for Children of Deaf Adults (which I did see) won Best Picture.
I love when art, in any form, raises peoples’ awareness about social, environmental and political issues. The Academy Awards have an incredibly opportunity to do that.
Here are some of my favorite moments of the evening that shined a light on Native Americans, Muslims, the deaf community, transgender people, a political hero sitting alone in a Russian prison cell fighting for democracy, and people of color.
It is obvious that tonight the Academy Awards is going to celebrate a beautiful rainbow of diversity. And that’s a good thing. Tonight may be the night that diversity wins!
The Oscars 2023
Indigenous Land Acknowledgment
Native Americans have long been ignored, so I was pleased that this year the Academy invited cinematographer, Leeann Nizhóni Leonard, a member of the Diné (Navajo) tribe to make a brief Land Acknowledgment statement on the red carpet.
Perhaps this attention is thanks to Taylor Sheridan’s hit TV series 1923, starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren that captures some of the horrific atrocities the Indigenous people experienced at the hands of white settlers in this country.
It’s good to hear Leonard say, “The land Hollywood rests on has a history. We are gathered on the ancestral home of the Tongva, Tataviam, and Chumash tribes, the original caretakers of this water and land.”
I am surprised Malala Yousafzai is at the Oscars. The Pakistani activist, who was shot in the face in 2012 at the age of 15 by a Taliban gunman for being vocal about young girls going to school, became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate in 2014 at age 17. Her advocacy on behalf of women and girls became an international movement, and she is Pakistan’s most prominent ambassador for peace.
Malala (known worldwide by her first name) started the production company, Extracurricular Productions. She is currently working with Apple TV+ to provide programming that will include dramas, comedies, documentaries, animation, and childrens’ series.
“I hope to bring to the table the voices of women of color, debut writers, and Muslim directors and writers,” she told Variety. “I hope to have a wide range of perspectives and that we challenge some of the stereotypes we hold in our societies.”
Malala is at the Academy Awards tonight as a producer for the documentary short, Stranger at the Gate—the surprising story of a Marine veteran from Indiana, who after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returns home with PTSD. His plan to attack a local mosque and kill as many Muslims as possible turns out quite different when the Muslims in the Mosque welcome him into their community.
nominees: The elephant whispers, haulout, how do you measure a year, the martha mitchell effect, and stranger at the gate
I’d like to see all the nominated films, especially The Elephant Whispers, which won, because I love elephants. The trailer for Malala’s Stranger at the Gate was so compelling, I had to watch the 30 minute film. It gives me hope that ordinary people can help dispel hatred, and that ultimately love crosses the divide and conquers all.
Here is a discussion with a couple of the people associated with the film.
Troy Kitsur presents Best Supporting Actor and Actress
For those who haven’t seen the film CODA (starring Marlee Matlin), they may not recognize Troy Kitsur, who was the first deaf male actor to win Best Supporting Actor in 2021. A year later, Troy is back presenting Best Supporting Actor and Actress Awards. It is beautiful to watch him sign. Here he is talking backstage.
Best Supporting Actor – Ke Huy Quan
nominees: brendon gleeson and barry keoghan (the banshees of inisherin), brian tyree henry (causeway), judd hirsch (the fabelmans), and ke huy quan (everything everywhere all at once)
Ke Huy Quan thought his acting career was set when Steven Spielberg cast him as a child in Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom, and The Goonies. But as he transitioned from child actor to adult actor, he said there were no opportunities for someone who looked like him.
Stepping away from acting was painful. All I saw was a dead end. It was a confusing time. I was so lost and dispirited. When they called about Everything Everywhere All the Time, it was the best phone call I’d gotten in 30 years. I was screaming at the top of my lungs.”– Ke Huy Quan
For anyone who has ever felt like giving up, you should watch this video.
When Ke was told that he got the part, the director asked him the name of his attorney so he could send him the contract. Ke hadn’t auditioned in years, and didn’t have an attorney. But he knew one. Jeff Cohen, who played Ky’s Goonie brother, Chunk, grew up to be an entertainment lawyer, and was happy to negotiate his old friend’s contract.
Best Supporting Actress – Jamie Lee Curtis
nominees: angela bassett (black panther: Wakanda Forever), hong chau (the whale), kerry condon (the banshees of inisherin), stephanie hsu and jamie lee curtis (everything everywhere all at once)
There has been much talk about nepotism in Hollywood, which refers to actors whose parents were famous. There is no escaping the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis’s parents, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, were movie stars.
Though neither Tony Curtis or Janet Leigh won an Oscar, their daughter, Jamie, did win Best Supporting Actor after 41 years of acting at the age of 65 for playing a persnickety, unflattering looking, IRS agent in Everything Everywhere All at Once—a role she almost didn’t take. Even Curtis acknowledges that the film’s over-the-top, out-there style, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
But getting back to the subject of nepotism, after New York magazine published an article titled “The Year of the Nepo Baby,” Jamie Lee posted on Instagram:
The conversation about nepo babies is designed to diminish, denigrate, and hurt…It’s curious how we immediately make assumptions and snide remarks that someone related to someone else who is famous in their field for their art, would somehow have no talent whatsoever. I have come to learn that is simply not true. I have suited up and shown up for all different kinds of work with thousands of people, and every day I’ve tried to bring integrity, professionalism, love, community, and art to my work. I am not alone. There are many of us—dedicated to our craft, proud of our lineage, strong in our belief in our right to exist.”
Jamie names her Oscar they/them out of respect for her transgender daughter
In a 2021, Jamie’s 26-year-old daughter told People that it was scary to tell her mom and dad, Christopher Guest, about her gender identity.
However, as Ruby explained, “They had been so accepting of me my entire life. People will still remember me for who I was, but I haven’t changed that. They finally get to see who I’ve always been inside, but now I finally get to show it on the outside.”
As Jamie Lee told People, “It’s like speaking a new language, learning new terminology and words. I’m not someone who is pretending to know much about it. I’m going to blow it and make mistakes, but I’d like to try to avoid making big mistakes.”
In a 2021 interview with AARP, Jamie Lee said she “watched in wonder and pride as our son became our daughter Ruby.”
She has learned a few things: “You slow your speech down a little. You become more mindful about what you’re saying. How you’re saying it. You still mess up, I’ve messed up today twice. We’re human.
“But if one person reads this, sees a picture of Ruby and me and says, ‘I feel free to say this is who I am,’ then it’s worth it.”
Best Actress – Michelle Yeoh
Nominees: Cate Blanchette (Tar), michelle Williams (the fabelmans), ana de armas (blonde), andrea riseborough (to leslie), and michelle yeoh (everything everywhere all at once)
After a lifetime of acting that included the films Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and Crazy Rich Asians (2008), Michelle Yeoh won her first Oscar at the age of 60 for her role as a dissatisfied and overwhelmed first generation Chinese woman, who owns a laundromat in Everything Everywhere All at Once. It is the first time an Asian woman has won Best Actress, and the first time a person of color has received the award in 20 years since presenter Halle Berry won.
Here is Michelle Yeoh on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Michelle’s acceptance speech was very emotional. Here is an excerpt:
For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities. This is proof that dreams do come true. And ladies don’t let anyone tell you that you are passed your prime. Never give up…I have to dedicate this to my mom, to all the moms in the world, because they are really the superheroes.– Michelle Yeoh
Best Actor – Brendan Fraser
nominees: colin farrel (the banshees of inisherin), paul mescal (aftersun), bill nighy (living), austin butler (elvis), and brendan fraser (the whale)
Obesity is an epidemic in America. It is also a shameful, taboo subject. So who would think that Brendan Fraser would win an Academy Award for Best Actor for playing Charlie, a 600 pound, house-bound, online English teacher with congenitive heart disease in the psychological drama The Whale.
The disease of obesity is associated with a significant psycho social burden. Many individuals who have obesity also struggle with issues related to their mood, self-esteem, quality of life, and body image. In The Whale, Charlie’s binge-eating starts when his boyfriend commits suicide due to religious guilt.
It took six hours to apply the all-digital makeup and body suit that weighed about 300 pounds to turn Brendan into Charlie.
Brendan explained that underneath the prosthetics were several layers of a modular body-sculpted costume and a cooling suit similar to what race-car drivers wear with tubes that crisscrossed and ran cold water over his body. He said mastering the right temperature was a challenge, and his body melted eight bags of ice a day.
Brendan’s transformation on screen is astounding. He did gain some weight for the role, but prosthetics makeup designer, Adrien Morot, used cutting-edge 3D technology to print the prosthetics suit.
Here is the trailer from the film The Whale. It is definitely a tearjerker.
In this video, Branden Fraser is very emotional when accepting his first Oscar.
Best Documentary – Navalny
nominees: all that breathes, all the beauty and bloodshed, fire of love, a house made of splinters, and navalny
Alexei Navalny could be a character in a political drama, except he is a real life hero with unfathomable courage, sitting in solitary confinement after being sentenced to 9 years in prison for committing the unthinkable crime—speaking out against the Russian dictator and war criminal, Vladimir Putin, even after being poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent.
The Guardian gave the film 5 stars calling it “… one of the most jaw-dropping things you’ll ever witness”, and “this terrifying documentary enters the realms of the far-fetched spy thriller—and yet it’s all true.” And now the film has won an Oscar.
Navalyn’s wife and daughter, who haven’t seen him in almost a year, are worried about his deteriorating health, and the fact that according to The Guardian, he is facing additional charges that could add an extra 15 years to his sentence. But they are fighting to keep his name, his face, and his story in the public eye. Putin may have locked Alexei Navalny away in isolation, but the world will not forget his bravery and commitment to freedom and democracy.
Best Picture – Everything Everywhere All at Once
nominees: all quiet on the western front, Avitar, the banshees of inisherin, the fablemans, elvis, tar, top gun, triangle of sadness, and women talking and everything everywhere all the time
I appreciate the creative genius it took for Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert to write the absurd, multi-parallel-universe, science-fiction, action, comedy-drama Everything Everwhere All at Once that won seven of its eleven nominations—including Best Picture, Best Actor, Actress, and Best Supporting Actress.
The film is all about relationships between Evelyn Quan Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a dissatisfied and overwhelmed first generation Chinese American woman, who runs a laundromat with her husband, Waymond (Ky Huy Quan), who is trying to serve Evelyn with divorce papers—Evelyn’s relationship with her demanding old-world Chinese father—and her lesbian daughter Joy, whose girlfriend is white.
On top of all those issues, the laundromat is being audited by an intimidating IRS agent (Jamie Lee Curtis). The film, which was shot in 38 days, touches on depression, generational trauma, and Asian-American identity, with a strong message about love and forgiveness.
I am disappointed that Avatar: The Way of Water, which is the sequel to Avatar, only received four nominations, including Best Picture, and only won one award. I can’t understand how the brilliant James Cameron was not nominated for Best Director.
In 2009, the technology used in the visually exquisite, action-packed Avatar was cutting edge and the message was clear—we are destroying Mother Earth. There are no second chances for the human race as there was on Pandora. The question is what will it take for the human race to wake up? Millions of us look forward to Avatar 3 and 4, but we must do more than watch a movie. We need to heed its call and take action!
Best Original Song – Naatu Naatu
Nominees: Applause (Tell It Like a Woman), Hold My Hand (Top Gun, maverick), lift me up (black panter: wakanda forever), naatu naatu (RRR), this is life (everything everywhere all at once)
Sofia Carson did a beautiful job performing “Applause,” written by Diane Warren for the film Tell It Like a Woman—an American–Italian anthology of seven short stories directed by women, about very different women who face a particular challenge in their life with extreme determination and courage that makes them stronger and more self-aware.
I also enjoyed watching a very pregnant Rihana, who recently performed during halftime at the Super Bowl, sing “Lift Me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
“Naatu Naatu,” the winning song from India was fun to watch because of the dance precision and choreography.
But the most stunning performance was perhaps the most unexpected—when Lady Gaga changed out of her sheer black, butt-revealing Versace gown, and took the stage in ripped jeans and no make-up. This stripped down version of Gaga—which is how she appeared in the third version of A Star is Born—is when she is the most authentic and most beautiful.
Prio to the show when Gaga was walking the champagne carpet, she saw a photographer stumble to the ground while snapping a shot. Immediately, the 36-year-old singer ran over to help him up. That’s who Gaga is. She cares about people and never lets her “celebrity” get in the way of her humanity.
Thank you to those who stuck around. That’s it for the 2023 Academy Awards. Until next year. In the meantime I look forward to seeing more movies that stir our hearts, and call us to action to create a more peaceful, loving world. As Gandhi said, “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.”
Love this article! It speaks exactly to what’s been needed in the Academy Awards.
Thank you Stacey. I feel the same way. I like shinning a light on important social, environmental, and political issues. Movies can do more than entertain, they can be thought-provoking and raise our consciousness. I appreciate your leaving a comment.