President Trump's effort to ban immigrants from some Muslim countries took its first big hit at the Oscars Sunday when an Iranian filmmaker who stayed home in protest won the award for best foreign film, The Salesman.
Asghar Farhadi sent a representative, engineer and astronaut Anousheh Ansari, to accept the award for him and to read a statement apologizing for not being there. Farhadi chose not to travel to the U.S. for the ceremony to protest a pending Trump order forbidding any Syrian refugees and a temporary ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran.
"It is out of respect for the people of my country and the other six disrespected by the inhuman law that bans entry of immigrants to the United States," his statement read, to big applause.
It was the first strong, serious objection to Donald Trump declared at the Oscars so far, and it clearly was shared by most of the audience.
That was followed by Gael García Bernal, presenting the nominees for best animated feature film, who spoke out against "walls," like the one Trump intends to build at the 2,000-mile border with Mexico.
“Flesh and blood actors are migrants, we travel all over the world, we build families, we construct stories, we build life that cannot be divided," García Bernal said. "As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I’m against any form of walls that wants to separate us.” Again, major applause.
Up to then, anti-Trumpism was mostly jokey. Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel started out warning he was "not the man" to unite America. But there's good news for Hollywood, he said, and they can thank their least favorite POTUS for it.
"Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?" he snarked in that faux innocent Kimmel way.
It was subtle but his meaning was not lost on the glittery crowd. Then he got really specific: Don't be surprised, he said, if the Oscars ended up being trashed by Trump. "Some of you will win and give a speech that the president of the United States will tweet about in all caps during his 5 a.m. bowel movement."
Mentioning the words "bowel movement" and POTUS in the same sentence had to be a first, maybe ever.
The political chatter took on a scatological tone before the Oscars even began.
First, it was Mike Huckabee, the otherwise affable evangelical former governor of Arkansas-turned-sometime-pundit-sometime-presidential-candidate, who took to Twitter Sunday with a vivid condemnation of Hollywood, before any stars had even arrived, let alone started declaiming their antagonism towards Trump.
"Watch celebs spew ignorant political venom at Oscars?? Nah...think I'd rather have a colonoscopy. Both happen from same location," he tweeted.
Watch celebs spew ignorant political venom at Oscars?? Nah...think I'd rather have a colonoscopy. Both happen from same location.— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) February 26, 2017
Which prompted Seth Rogen, who's called Huckabee an "idiot" on Twitter in the past, to tweet back his own insult.
"You get colonoscopies at the Kodak theater? I guess it might be the only place big enough."
You get colonoscopies at the Kodak theater? I guess it might be the only place big enough. https://t.co/J87j7uBn0w— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) February 26, 2017
And we're off to another "frank exchange of views," as diplomats say, at the Oscars, where this year the stars seem as prepared to pontificate as they are to preen and party.
By contrast, the American Civil Liberties Union's distribution of little blue ribbon pins to the stars, to wear on their lapels and gowns, seemed almost tame. The idea, said the civil rights organization, is to give nominees, presenters, filmmakers, musicians, executives and guests an "opportunity to express their support for the rights and civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution."
"This symbol of solidarity with the ACLU acknowledges the commitment of those on the front lines — in the courts, legislatures and in the streets — who are working to ensure that our precious freedoms and values are preserved," the ACLU said in a statement issued before the Oscars.
Ruth Negga, a best actress nominee for Loving, wore one because the ACLU played a major role in helping overturn the ban on interracial marriage in Virginia, the subject of her film.
"They helped Richard and Mildred (Loving) change the Constitution of the United States and the fight for civil rights and I'm all for that," she said on the red carpet. "So should everybody, really. And I think that charities like that are important now and they're a watchdog of sorts and that's important in our society."
Director Barry Jenkins, nominated for Moonlight, realized in the middle of a red carpet interview that he had lost his ACLU ribbon pin. He didn't know what he would say if he wins, but "I think art is inherently political," and he supports any artists who speak out about politics at the show.
The stars have not had any trouble expressing their support for the Constitution — and their condemnation of Trump — in the past two months of Hollywood's annual orgy of self-congratulation.
But Justin Timberlake's opening number was a no-politics performance of his Oscar-nominated song, Can't Stop the Feeling from the animated film Trolls. "Watch the top of the show, it will be very un-political. I can promise you that," he told the Associated Press before the broadcast started.
Timberlake says he's honored that the film academy honored a feel-good song. "I think the world could use a little bit of that," he said.
And after Mahershala Ali won the first major acting award of the night, best supporting actor for Moonlight, thus becoming the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, there was a surge of tweets directed at Trump and his efforts to ban refugees and immigrants from Muslim-dominated countries.
"The first #Oscars winner is a Muslim. America is already great, Donald," tweeted writer Anand Giridharadas.
Earlier on Sunday, Trump was continuing his Twitter war with the "failing" New York Times, which is scheduled to air its first ever 30-second ad during the Oscars — about the truth and independent journalists’ role in finding it.
"For first time the failing @nytimes will take an ad (a bad one) to help save its failing reputation. Try reporting accurately & fairly!," Trump tweeted Sunday morning.
For first time the failing @nytimes will take an ad (a bad one) to help save its failing reputation. Try reporting accurately & fairly!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2017
The 89th Academy Awards concludes a long, hot, unusually combative awards season in terms of political speech, as largely liberal Hollywood confronted the confounding election of Trump and his pugilistic approach to leadership.
There is no love lost between them: He and his supporters pour scorn on Hollywood (where few luminaries of note supported him) and continue to do so, even from the White House press secretary's podium. And the stars have responded with contempt in kind, mocking, sneering and denouncing him and his policies every which way.
Even before the ceremony, all five directors, including Farhadi, of nominated foreign language films, from Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Australia as well as Iran, issued a joint letter "to express our unanimous and emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S. and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians....Human rights are not something you have to apply for. They simply exist — for everybody. "
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the maestro of Hamilton, Oscar nominee and outspoken Trump critic, was wearing an ACLU pin on the red carpet. "I think the past few weeks have proven nothing but that they're fighting the good fights right now, and important fights," he said.
Miranda was one of numerous Oscar-watchers who predicted outspokenness during the ceremonies. “I expect we’ll see more of that this year," he said in an essay in The Hollywood Reporter. "It’s a political time, so I imagine the Oscars will look exactly like your Twitter or Facebook feed. Why should we ignore for three hours what we're talking about 24 hours a day?"
It's not that politics at the Oscars is new (hello? Anybody remember the Vietnam War?); it just seems this year has been especially poisonous.
The tone of this season was set at the Golden Globes in January, when Meryl Streep used her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille award to condemn Trump's "instinct to humiliate" the vulnerable and vowed to stand up for "Hollywood, foreigners and the press" against his threats.
Never able to resist the siren call of his Twitter feed, Trump responded to Streep — a three-time Oscar winner with a history-making 20 nominations — in an early morning tweet calling her a "flunky" for Hillary Clinton and "one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood." This risible claim only inspired a slew of follow-up stories spelling out how many awards Streep has won over the years.
Kimmel played the Trump-on-Streep dis for big laughs, calling her an actress who "has stood the test of time for her many uninspiring and overrated performances,” who “has phoned it in for more than 50 films.” Streep seemed delighted, especially when he asked her to stand and take "a thoroughly undeserved" bow before her peers.
Will Trump tweet after the Oscars? He might finally be too busy. He and first lady Melania Trump hosted the annual Governors Ball (that is, the governors of the states) at the White House, their first major soiree, on the same night (it always falls on Oscars night).
At his daily press briefing on Feb. 22, press secretary Sean Spicer was asked why so many Hollywood stars were speaking out against Trump. He said he had no idea but it's a free country.
"I think Hollywood is known for being rather far to the left in its opinions," he said. But don't expect Trump to be watching the Oscars, he said. "I have a feeling (the Governors Ball is) where the president and first lady are going to be focused on Sunday night."