Donald Trump may have been a couple thousand miles away, but the newly elected president cast a long shadow over Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony.
After a rocky six weeks in the White House marked by divisive attacks, gushing leaks and nationwide protests, the president and his controversial policies seemed to be on the tip of many Hollywood stars’ tongues last night — which made it even stranger that only one person during the four-hour awards show used the word “Trump” in a sentence.
That person was Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel, who went on the offensive during his opening monologue by thanking the president and saying: “Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars was racist?”
“This broadcast is being watched live by millions of Americans and around the world in more than 225 countries that now hate us,” he said.
Kimmel’s playful attacks on Trump grew increasingly barbed, culminating in a tweet at Trump with the hashtag “Merylsayshi,” referring to Meryl Streep, who has spoken out against the president.
What followed were acceptance speeches and statements that addressed the elephant in the room, sometimes passionately but never giving that elephant a name.
The result was an awards show that felt more passive than aggressive.
Which is not to suggest the night wasn’t overtly political. The evening was marked by clearly defined political statements that invoked the president’s policies, as well as more subtle allusions that required only the faintest amount of reading between the lines.
Tweeting from his personal account, Matt Drudge — creator of the conservative news outlet the Drudge Report — referred to the ceremony as the “Most politically-drenched night” in the “history of Hollywood.”
“The commercials, the ABC promos, the standing ovations for anything and everything.”
The night may have been explicitly political, but whether it was historically so is a matter of debate. Instead of accepting his Academy Award for best actor following his performance in “The Godfather” in 1973, Marlon Brando had a Native American activist named Sacheen Littlefeather attend the ceremony and decline his award to protest the treatment of Indians by the film industry, according to Newsweek.
Richard Brody, who writes about film for the New Yorker, argued that in a time of so much outrage across the country, it was surprising to see so little of that fury reflected on stage.
“While the new Administration has been going lower than anyone could have imagined, Hollywood went suavely and glamorously high,” Brody wrote. “A strange spectre haunted the evening — the fear that Hollywood could actually become a conspicuous target of the regime.”
“Selma” director Ava DuVernay made a similar point after the ceremony when she noted that the night never captured the full measure of its political potential.
As The Washington Post’s Dan Zak reported, last night’s ceremony fell on the fifth anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death. Making the night even more ripe for political commentary, Trump is president and a movie about a gay black man won best picture.
“I’m surprised it wasn’t more political,” said DuVernay, nominated this year for the documentary “13th.”
Would she have let loose if she had won?
“I was ready,” she said.
Here are a few of the other examples of big names addressing the president’s long shadow without using his name.
Barry Jenkins, who won an Oscar for writing (adapted screenplay) for the film “Moonlight”:
I tell my students that I teach sometimes, be in love with the process not the result, but I really wanted this result because a bajillion people are watching and all you people out there who feel like there’s no mirror for you, that your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back. And for the next four years, we will not leave you alone, we will not forget you.
Viola Davis, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in the movie “Fences”:
People ask me all the time, “What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?” And I say, exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition.
Byron Howard and Rich Moore, co-directors of “Zootopia,” which won an Oscar for best animated feature film:
Byron Howard: About five years ago, almost six now, oh my God, we got this crazy idea to talk about humanity with talking animals in the hopes that when the film came out, it would make the world just a slightly better place.
Rich Moore: And we are so grateful to the audiences all over the world who embraced this film with this story of tolerance being more powerful than fear of the other.
Gael Garcia Bernal, presenter:
Flesh and blood actors are migrant workers. We travel all over the world. We build families, we construct stories, we build life but cannot be divided. As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I am against any form of a wall that wants to separate us.
Alessandro Bertolazzi, who won an Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling for the movie “Suicide Squad”:
I’m an immigrant. I come from Italy. I work around the world and this is for all the immigrants, for the immigrants.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science:
“Tonight is proof that art has no borders, no single language and does not belong to a single faith. The power of art is that it transcends all these things. And as a result all creative artists around the world are connected by an unbreakable bond that is powerful and permanent.”
She added that regardless of where a filmmaker comes from, or where their ideas come from, “they all speak to the human condition. …. That is the magic of the movies and that is what we celebrate tonight.”
Warren Beatty, presenter:
It could be said that our goal in politics is the same as our goal in art, which is to get to truth. So that’s like in the movies that we honor tonight, that not only entertain us and move us, they show us the increasing diversity in our community and a respect for diversity and freedom all over the world.
Orlando von Einsiedel, director of “The White Helmets,” which won an Oscar for best documentary (short subject):
Sadly, Raed Saleh, the head of the White Helmets, is not able to join us tonight. We have a very short statement from him that we’d like to share with you: We’re so grateful that this film has highlighted our work to the world. Our organization is guided by a verse from the Koran: “To save one life is to save all of humanity.” We have saved more than 82,000 civilian lives. I invite anyone here who hears me to work on the side of life, to stop the bloodshed in Syria and around the world.
Mark Rylance, presenter:
Sometimes, the most supportive thing is to oppose. Something women seem to be better at than men, is opposing without hatred.
Anousheh Ansari, who accepted the award for best foreign-language film on behalf of Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi:
I will be reading a statement by Mr. Farhadi: It’s a great honor to be receiving this valuable award for the second time. I would like to thank the members of the Academy, my crew in Iran, my producer Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Cohen Media, Amazon and my fellow nominees in the foreign film category.
I’m sorry I’m not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations whom have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S. Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fear. A deceitful justification for aggression and war.
These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever. Thank you on behalf of Mr. Farhadi.
By the time the winner for best actor took the stage, several of his peers had made seemingly political statements. Affleck deferred.
“But most of all, Kenneth Lonergan, who made this part and without this part and without his writing, I wouldn’t be here for sure,” he said. “And he directed it. Man, I wish I had something bigger and more meaningful to say, but I just, I’m really proud to be part of this community in general.”