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A Strange, Uneven Oscar Night in the Year of #MeToo

A Strange, Uneven Oscar Night in the Year of #MeToo

My night at the Oscars ended on Melrose, around 1 A.M., teetering on a
curb in the clean cold air of Los Angeles after a winter snap and a
rainstorm, offering girlfriend-outside-the-club encouragement to the
beloved actress in her fifties whose stilettos had sunk into the grass
outside the Vanity Fair party at the same time as mine. She’d pulled
me onto the curb with her. “The grass is terrible,” she said. Behind
us were perpetual flashbulbs, heat lamps, a cluster of models dressed
like exotic birds. In front of us, black S.U.V.s crawled down the street
without stopping. “Come on, come on, are you my Uber, I’m fucking
cold,” the actress chanted, shivering in her sparkling dress. “I’m
fucking done. Come on, come on, you’ve got to be my Uber.”

“That next car’s yours, I can feel it,” I told her. “You’ll be in your
pajamas really soon.”

“Here’s to that, sister,” she said. The next black car slowed to a stop.
The actress hopped into the back seat. “Oh, thank God you’re here,” I
heard her say, her voice fading into the ambient noise of the party. The
car door closed and the actress drove away into the night.

What I didn’t know about the Oscars until I arrived was that it takes
place in and around a large outdoor shopping mall. The Dolby Theatre is
part of the Hollywood & Highland Center, which is, as mentioned in host
Jimmy Kimmel’s opening segment on Sunday night, just a hop and a skip
away from Hooters; the red carpet is about a two-minute walk from a Hot
Topic, a Cabo Wabo Cantina, and a generously sized Dave & Buster’s.

Trussed into my dress like a chicken, I arrived at the Hot Topic around
1:30 P.M. and stood there for a while, observing the red carpet from a
distance: limos dropped the celebrities off in a holding pen, from which
they were escorted by handlers to the step-and-repeat, and then through
the final press section, which featured bleachers of fans who’d been in
place since the morning. Each person who walks is on a timetable; the
camera angles are planned, as are many of the interview questions. A
cheerful sweetheart of a man told me he’d been onsite for the last three
days doing “standing work”—walking the carpet as a celebrity placeholder
so that the camera people could figure out their shots. “It’s even more
fun when you get to be inside the theatre pretending to be the nominees,
because you always get to pretend to be the winner,” he told me. “No one
knows what’s going to happen except for PricewaterhouseCoopers, so they
have to practice every possible shot.”

I went down to the red carpet—a blur of sequins and satin and filler and
foundation spackled thickly across bone. There was a line of publicists,
a line of tuxedoed security guards, and a trickle of celebrities
accompanied by handlers. “Would you be interested in talking to Paz
Vega?” a woman asked, as she walked down the press row holding a sign
that said “PAZ VEGA.” Waves of cheering passed through the bleachers
like wind ruffling a field of wheat. I kept having the momentary
delusion that happens when you see a famous person and, because you
recognize them in intimate detail, briefly think you’ve caught sight of
a friend. “There’s no telling what will happen next!” an on-air
personality kept saying despite all evidence to the contrary.
Celebrities nosed up to the cameras like friendly dolphins inching to
the edge of an enclosure. The interviews made no sense to me unless I
watched them on camera, peering through the tiny rectangular viewfinders
on nearby video rigs. I was in the middle of an assembly line in a
hyper-efficient image factory. I left the red carpet, passed a Johnny
Rockets, walked through a metal detector, and entered the press area,
where a long line of journalists had formed to honor a buffet of
charcuterie, cheese, and cocktail shrimp. “I’m here with Bulgarian
television, but they didn’t pay for Internet,” one young woman said.
“Please—it’s been such a long day already—can anyone help?”

The great masses of beautiful people started migrating into the Dolby
Theatre for the ceremony after 4 P.M. The atmosphere was vibrating,
anxious, hopeful. Life-size Oscars were stationed on each floor for
people to pose with, and there were miniature bags of popcorn to eat.
Underneath each seat in the theatre was a snack box, each with an
illustration of one of the Best Picture nominees. (Mine, pleasingly, was
“Get Out.”) On my right, someone said, “We all really need a fun night,
to get away from politics for a little bit.” Behind me, another person
said, “I hope Kimmel does a good job with #MeToo.” I fished out the
gummy bears from my snack box and sat contentedly eating candy as the
lights went down.

“Hollywood has nimbly absorbed its critiques and converted them into
inspirational messaging and digestible branding exercises, just in time
for the unfurling of the red
Amanda Hess wrote in January. Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue, which
compensated for the discomfort of social consciousness by
oversimplifying things, reflected as much. Thus the joke about how Oscar
is a good man because he doesn’t have a penis—it was as if an ironic feminist mug from 2013 had taken the stage—and Emma Stone’s crack, late in the show,
about the “four men and Greta Gerwig” nominated for Best Director.
(Those four men, of course, included Guillermo del Toro and Jordan
Peele; the ironic feminist mugs of 2013 never did a good job of
remembering that race and gender exist simultaneously.) The best joke in
the ceremony belonged to Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph, who stole the
show as soon as they walked out carrying their heels. The Oscars had
been too white, they noted, but now maybe people were worried they’d
gotten too black. “We just wanted to say, don’t worry,” Rudolph said.
“There are so many more white people to come tonight.” It’s
funnier—and more honest—to address directly the ambient awkwardness
prompted by the sudden cultural focus on equality rather than pretend
that the narrative has already been resolved.

The glittering rock-candy arch that spanned the Dolby stage framed a lot
of fierce, uneven change as the night progressed. Frances McDormand
ended her Best Actress speech by introducing the world to the concept of
the “inclusion
market-based redistributive solution by which an A-list actor can
insist, in his or her contract, that a movie accurately reflect
contemporary demographics. Ashley Judd casually mentioned
intersectionality while introducing a taped segment that contained a
slew of common-sense arguments for diverse onscreen representation. More
people are beginning to think of these things structurally: the fact
that Rachel Morrison was the first-ever female nominee for
cinematography, for example, seemed not just like a shame but a problem
with clear and specific
At the same time, Kobe Bryant won the Best Animated Short award for the
truly terrible “Dear Basketball,” and Gary Oldman won Best Actor for
“The Darkest Hour.” The two men have been accused of rape and domestic
violence, respectively, though both have denied the allegations; they
both received wild, seemingly heartfelt applause. A man behind me
whispered “Shut—the—fuck—up,” when Helen Mirren talked about witnessing
social change. A woman in front of me examined her selfie roll while the
#MeToo video played onscreen. Hollywood loves a sweeping narrative—we
all do—but the story is recursive and complicated. Judd spoke alongside
whose presence I found intensely moving. I also kept thinking about how
much we ask of these actresses, how we want them to appeal to us while
remaking the world for the better. I kept thinking about what Jacqueline
Rose recently wrote in the London Review of Books that our attention
to violence against women might “be feeding vicariously off the forms of
perversion that fuel the violence in the first

After the ceremony, which went long as usual, the bathroom was full of
women retouching their makeup with wordless, hyper-focussed resolve.
Everyone streamed downstairs for the Governor’s Ball. Waiters passed
holding trays with truffle mac and cheese, chicken pot pie with
truffles, smoked salmon with caviar. I got in line for the sushi buffet.
“My guy at Bank of America says I’m over-leveraged,” said the man behind
me, who was eating lobster claws directly from the buffet table. A
waiter approached a co-worker carrying a tray covered with inch-long
tacos. “This tray is for Steven Spielberg, but I can’t find him
anywhere,” he said. “I’m going to do three more laps, and then this tray
goes to someone else.”

I got in a car to go to the Vanity Fair party, where I immediately
tripped on my dress and walked into both Drake and Kendall Jenner.
Timothée Chalamet held court in his white tux, Adam Rippon in his
Mary J. Blige was dancing in the middle of the room. Saoirse Ronan and
Odeya Rush ran into each other’s arms giddily. I huddled under a heat
lamp with Kelly Marie Tran and talked about BB-8. A TV host with
benzodiazepine eyes wanted to say hi to someone but kept forgetting who.
“Go get that guy,” a teen-age actress slurred. “He has fried chicken.”
Through the crowd came Frances McDormand, finger pointed at a man in
front of her. “Inclusivity! Rider!” she said.

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