Hollywood Is Deeply Uncertain, and Not Just About Inclusion

Perhaps it's a sign of impending middle age, but I thought host Jimmy Kimmel's opening monologue set the perfect tone for the 90th Academy Awards, a show that put the final bow on the most turbulent year in film that I can remember.

Kimmel's deadpan delivery cut right through the obvious tension of the moment - putting the movie industry in its rightful place, taken down a few notches, in a year when wave after wave of sexual harassment and assault allegations shook it to its core.

"Here's how clueless Hollywood is about women: We made a movie called What Women Want, and it starred Mel Gibson," quipped Kimmel, in perhaps his most incisive moment of the evening. A little self-deprecation goes a long way, especially in early 2018, which in turn made the rest of the night's proceedings that much more bizarrely uneven.

Just a few hours later, Kimmel - riffing on his signature style of late-night comedy as well as a bit from last year's show where regular people get thrown in with Hollywood royalty on live television - marched a handful of celebrities including Gal Gadot and Mark Hamill over to a theater next door, where they interrupted a sneak preview of A Wrinkle in Time to pass out snacks, shoot off a hot dog cannon and generally mingle with the commonfolk. It seemed cute in the moment. Just 24 hours later, I am aghast at it - still taking measure of how the same show could give us that great Mel Gibson joke and then such condescension.

In introducing the bit, Kimmel pitched it as a chance to quite literally thank the "moviegoing public." That's a nice gesture on its face, but also one that feels increasingly necessary (desperate, even?) as disruptors like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime shrink the "moviegoing public" with the intoxicating allure of just staying on your couch. How tone deaf, then, to "thank" them with a few free red vines, steamed hot dogs fired at high velocity and a pat on the head from Armie Friggin' Hammer.

If there was a single vibe emanating from the Dolby Theater on Sunday night, it is that Hollywood - as much as it is a monolith that can be encapsulated by that term - has no idea what to do with itself. It's not just #MeToo either, though how to address what that movement has brought to the surface is more than enough to merit serious soul-searching. The sands are shifting right beneath the feet of the industry, and inclusivity is only a part of it. Indeed, the triumph of Best Picture winner The Shape of Water can be seen as its own kind of bellwether - an indication that the medium itself is splintering at an exponential rate. Watch the 90 years of movie magic montage, and then try to make an argument that the very way we collectively share film isn't being radically altered by the proliferation of new channels, cheap high quality equipment and readily available editing software.

To echo many, many others, if The Shape of Water can be considered the "safe" winner, then the Oscars really have changed dramatically.

Change is coming to Hollywood too. It's just hard to see what that change looks like - where we are all going to net out. Vulture's Mark Harris called the Oscars both "an endpoint and a checkpoint" in his wrap-up piece, but, if I may be so bold, it was much more the latter than the former this time around. There are other checkpoints to come, but I haven't the slightest idea where they even lie at this point.

It doesn't seem like Hollywood does either, so perhaps that's why an air of mystery settled in over the show as it plodded toward its conclusion. Frances McDormand sent us all to Google to look up what an "inclusion rider" is; the search engine gods had little to offer Sunday evening, though I'm sure they do by now.

A smaller, but no less uncertain, mysterious statement stuck with me.

"Go make your movie. ... I need your movie," said Oscar-nominated director Greta Gerwig during another montage - this one on inclusion, the ostensible theme of the night. Gerwig's call to arms speaks not just to the increasingly diverse set of people who might answer, but to the places "your movie" might be seen and the more and more eclectic audiences it might find.