LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali won early Oscars on Sunday for their supporting roles in African-American stories “Fences” and “Moonlight” on a night where diversity, and U.S. President Donald Trump, both loomed large.
Ali, and a tearful Davis, each winning their first Oscars, were among a record seven actors of color nominated for Academy Awards this year, in stark contrast to 2016 when there were none.
“O.J.: Made in America,” a series about the 1995 double murder trial of former footballer O.J. Simpson won best documentary.
Trump and actress Meryl Streep also took center stage on the movie industry’s biggest night as host Jimmy Kimmel fired off political zingers after an awards season marked by celebrity opposition to the Republican president and his policies.
“I want to say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?” quipped Kimmel in an apparent reference to Trump’s crackdown on immigrants and travelers from seven majority Muslim nations.
Streep, 67, was given a standing ovation by the Oscar audience after Kimmel recalled how Trump had derided the actress as “overrated” after she attacked him at the Golden Globes ceremony in January.
“Meryl Streep has phoned it in for more than 50 films in the course of her lackluster career,” Kimmel quipped as triple Oscar winner Streep squirmed in her seat.
Several celebrities wore blue ribbons on Sunday in support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) advocacy group that worked to get Trump’s travel ban blocked in U.S. courts.
Iran’s “The Salesman” was named best foreign language film but its director, Asghar Farhadi, boycotted Sunday’s ceremony because of the Trump’s controversial bid to ban travelers from seven majority Muslim nations.
In a speech delivered on his behalf by Iranian-American space expert Anousheh Ansari, Farhadi said his absence was due to “an inhumane law that bans entry into the U.S… Dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war.”
‘ART HAS NO BORDERS’
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which votes on the Oscar winners, made no mention of Trump when she took the stage on Sunday.
But she told the audience of A-listers and the millions of people watching on television around the world that, “tonight is proof that art has no borders, art has no single language and art does not belong to a single faith. The power of art is that it transcends these things,” she said.
With a leading 14 nominations, romantic musical “La La Land” had looked set to dance away with an armful of Academy Awards, including best picture at the end of the night, for its love letter to artistic ambition and Los Angeles itself.
A best picture win for “La La Land,” starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a jazz pianist and a struggling actress, would be the first musical to win best picture at the Academy Awards since “Chicago” in 2003.
But the movie’s chances of equaling the 11 Oscar record held by “Titanic,” “Ben-Hur,” and “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” appeared to have slipped away as the musical lost early technical awards for sound and costumes.
(Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy, Nichola Groom and Lisa Richwine; Editing by Sandra Maler and Mary Milliken)