- The Washington Times - Monday, February 29, 2016

It was a night of celebrating the best of what Hollywood had to offer, but with perhaps more controversy than in recent years, and not just the expected issue of the all-white acting nominees.

Oscars host Chris Rock began Sunday evening’s ceremony on the controversy sparked by all 20 nominated actors being white for the second consecutive year, touching on the matter while also attempting to make light of it.

“I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards,” Mr. Rock said at the top of the show.

Mr. Rock said that while the lack of black, Hispanic and Asian nominees is certainly nothing new, the protests over the 2016 ceremony — Spike Lee called for a boycott, which was heeded by Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith — come from, perhaps, a place of privilege.

Mr. Rock said “We had real things to protest” during the 1960s and ‘70s, during other years of only white thespian nominees. “We [were] too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.”

Diversity in the Academy was just one of the social issues that took center stage at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, with nominees, winners and presenters all utilizing the world’s most visible dais to tout their causes and bring attention to personal missions.

Perhaps no other issue was given greater prominence in an acceptance speech than global warming. Leonardo DiCaprio, who won his first Oscar on five nominations for the gritty frontier revenge drama “The Revenant,” used the platform to call attention to man-made climate change.

“I just want to say making ‘The Revenant’ was about man’s relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history,” the newly minted best actor said. “Climate change is real, and it’s happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.”

Mr. DiCaprio also called out big banks and industry for placing profit ahead of the health of both the financial sectors and the planet.

“We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters or the big corporations, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed.”

“The Revenant” was filmed partially in Canada, but shooting later switched to Argentina in search of winterlike conditions.

“Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow,” Mr. DiCaprio, 41, said from the stage.

The scourge of sexual violence was also on Academy minds Sunday. Vice President Joe Biden introduced Oscar nominee Lady Gaga, who was performing the song “Till It Happens to You” from the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which is about college sexual assault.

“We must and we can change the culture so that abused women or men like the survivors you will see tonight never feel they have to ask themselves, ‘what did I do?’” Mr. Biden said from the stage. “They did nothing wrong.”

Lady Gaga then performed “Till It Happens to You” backed by a choir made up entirely of sexual abuse survivors.

“I am myself a survivor,” Lady Gaga said during the evening, recalling how she herself suffered sexual assault as a teenager.

In an upset, the tune lost out for best original song to “Writings on the Wall” from the James Bond film “Spectre,” sung by Sam Smith.

In another upset “Spotlight,” detailing the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s covering up for pedophile priests, beat out “The Revenant” for best picture. The film also won best original screenplay for director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer.

“We made this film for all the journalists who have and continue to hold the powerful accountable and for the survivors whose courage and will to overcome is really an inspiration to all,” Mr. McCarthy said in his speech. “We have to make sure this never happens again.”

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