- Associated Press - Sunday, January 21, 2018

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) - Women and inclusivity continued to dominate the awards season conversation Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards, where Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical romance “The Shape of Water” won the top award and honorees like Jordan Peele and Ava DuVernay gave rousing speeches to the room of entertainment industry leaders.

The untelevised dinner and ceremony, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., is closely watched for its capacity to predict the eventual Oscar best picture winner, but this year the “awards race” seemed to be the secondary show to the more urgent questions facing the industry, including the crisis of representation and sexual misconduct.

The Producers Guild on Friday ratified guidelines for combating sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, and everyone from DuVernay to Universal Chair Donna Langley and television mogul Ryan Murphy made mention of the changing times and the work that still needs to be done.

“If we want more brilliant films like ‘Get Out’ …we need to have many different perspectives including equal numbers of women, people of color, people of all faiths and sexual orientation involved in every stage of filmmaking,” Langley said in accepting the Milestone Award - noting that she was only the third woman to do so.

It was not the only time “Get Out” got a special mention, despite not winning the top award. Peele also won the Stanley Kramer Award.

Del Toro was not present to accept the PGA’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures, due to the health of his father.

His film was up against 10 others this year, including “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which won big at the Golden Globes earlier this month, “Lady Bird,” ”Get Out,” ”Dunkirk,” ”The Post,” ”Call Me By Your Name,” ”The Big Sick,” ”I, Tonya” ”Wonder Woman” and “Molly’s Game” - many of which were represented by actors and directors in attendance like Timothee Chalamet, Christopher Nolan, Margot Robbie, Patty Jenkins and Greta Gerwig.

Other presenters included the likes of Tom Hanks, Reese Witherspoon, Mary J. Blige, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kerry Washington and Morgan Freeman in the ceremony that saw Disney and Pixar’s “Coco” pick up best animated feature and Brett Morgen’s Jane Goodall film “Jane” win best documentary.

In television, “The Handmaids Tale” picked up best drama series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” won best comedy series, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” won best TV variety series, “Black Mirror” for long-form TV, “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” for nonfiction television, “Sesame Street” for children’s program and “Carpool Karaoke” for best short-form program.

The pre-announced honorees stole most of the show, however.

Norman Lear presented the Stanley Kramer Award to Peele invoking the award’s namesake in speaking of “Get Out,” which Lear proudly said he’s seen three times.

Peele said he was proud to call Lear a friend.

“I want to say, you can use my body for your brain anytime,” Peele laughed, before taking a more serious turn in his speech.

Peele likened the idea of “the sunken place” in the film to what is happening in the world right now, referencing Haiti, the water crisis in Flint, and President Donald Trump’s criticisms of athletes for protesting on the field.

“What really scares me…is the silencing of voices,” Peele said “‘Get Out’ is my protest against that.”

Peele ended on a hopeful note, however.

“Finally unique voices are breaking through,” he said. “Diverse and honest storytelling opens eyes and hearts. We can break out of the sunken place together.”

“Selma” and “A Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay gave a similarly poignant speech in accepting the Visionary Award,

“It’s an odd moment, you have a women’s march and you have a country with a government shut down,” DuVernay said. “We’re in the midst of times that will be long remembered.”

DuVernay said what is important is, “The way we work. The people we actually choose to see. That we choose to amplify in the moments where no one is looking.”

“Don’t think of diversity as a good thing to do,” she added. “Think of it as a must. An absolute must.”

Like many awards shows in the midst of Me Too and Time’s Up, even the men accepting awards devoted large portions of their time on stage to talk about extraordinary women in their lives.

“Wonder Woman” producer Charles Roven used his David O. Selznick Achievement Award acceptance speech to call out powerful women he’s worked with, from his late wife Dawn Steel, to Langley, Sue Kroll, Amy Pascal and Jenkins, who he said “has reignited this industry.”

“Glee” creator Ryan Murphy, who got the Norman Lear Achievement Award, said, “Women were always my champions and mentors for 20 years now and I believe that’s because they deeply related to my struggle - what it’s like to be an outsider.” He has taken steps to ensure that women occupy at least half of the directing spots in his productions.

In the larger context of awards season “The Shape of Water’s” win Saturday surprised some who expected “Three Billboards” to continue its ascendancy after the Globes. “The Shape of Water” is also up for two Screen Actors Guild Awards, which will be announced Sunday.

The Producers Guild’s choice for top film has eight times in the last 10 years matched the eventual Academy Award best picture winner. Last year, its nominees predicted all 9 best picture nominees, although the PGA went to “La La Land” which lost out to “Moonlight” at the Academy Awards.

Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday in advance of the ceremony on March 4.

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For full coverage of awards season, visit: https://apnews.com/tag/AwardsSeason

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