A first-timer shares what it’s like to be inside the Academy Awards
It’s a long road to LOS ANGELES the Oscars.
And calling a Lyft 90 minutes ahead of the 5:30 p.m. PT (8:30 ET) program won’t spare you from traffic, which constricts the area around the luxury Loews Hollywood Hotel, the scene of the ceremony long seen as the zenith of the awards season. IT TAKES MORE THAN AN HOUR TO GET THROUGH. After being forced to reroute from your hotel that’s five minutes away, you manage to snake up a couple of blocks before security signals for your driver to stop. An officer asks to inspect the trunk while two other officers check the underside.
You can’t help but notice people pressing up against the metal fences barricading the street. Their cameras are raised, ready to capture a photo of Leonardo DiCaprio or perhaps Taraji P. Henson only to be greeted by tinted windows.
That question — along with the occasional eye tag with paparazzi wondering who you are — occupies you long enough to get through the snarl to the official entrance.
Once you arrive, attendants whisk you out of the car and hand you a ticket for your “limousine” to retrieve you at the end of the night. YOU GET A SNEAK PEEK AT THE RED CARPET. The red carpet is supposed to be restricted to credential holders covering celebrity arrivals, but the path to the Dolby Theatre leads you through a maze of black rope, cumbrous curtains and metal detectors straight to the carpet’s periphery. If you wanted, you could reach out and touch the stars. But it is safer and more socially acceptable to take photos, which dozens of ticket holders do despite attendants repeatedly requesting that you move along.
You are among the lingerers, stealing glimpses of La La Land’s Ryan Gosling, I Am Not Your Negro’s Samuel L. Jackson and Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali. WHILE THE SET MAY BE LARGER THAN LIFE, THE THEATER ISN’T. Though it seems to house all of Hollywood on TV, the Dolby Theatre is smaller than you would expect, but its size aligns with the intimacy of the ceremony. There’s a distinct feeling of communion, at least in the lower level, where celebrities move effortlessly among one another and unabashedly stand, sway and clap along with performers like Justin Timberlake.
It takes time for the spirit of Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feel
ing to catch on in the upper levels. With the exception of commercial breaks — where guests use the two-minute window to squeeze in bathroom runs, inhale wasabi peas and snack wraps and hit the upper-level cash bar (an area skipped by celebrities) — people mostly remain seated.
Yet when John Legend takes the stage to perform La La Land’s
City of Stars and Audition ( The
Fools Who Dream), it’s as if guests are reminded that they are in a room of dreamers. People begin shifting in their seats. There are audible “whoas.” THE ACCEPTANCE SPEECHES HELP BRING EVERYONE INTO THE MOMENT. You join the crowd in blinking back tears as Fences star Viola Davis accepts the award for best supporting actress. “People ask me all the time, ‘What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’ ” she says. “And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories, the stories of the people who dreamed.”
While accepting the award for best adapted screenplay, Moon
light director Barry Jenkins and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney acknowledge the importance of inclusion.
“All you people out there who feel like there’s no mirror out there, that your life is not reflected, the academy has your back,” Jenkins affirmed. “The ACLU has your back. We have your back.”
“This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming who don’t see themselves,” McCraney added. “We’re trying to show you, you and us.” BUT IT’S NOT ALL SOMBER. Host Jimmy Kimmel makes sure of that, especially after the night’s biggest flub, when presenters announce the best-picture winner as La La Land when it was actually Moonlight.
Riffing off the 2015 Miss Universe fiasco, Kimmel says, “I blame Steve Harvey!”
The joke is a hit. THE AFTER-PARTY IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWS THE OSCARS, AND IT IS STAR-STUDDED. The bash is staged on the fourth floor of the hotel, where inviting tents, plush white furniture and real food — including steak tartare, short ribs, lobster, crab legs and shrimp — await you. It’s a welcome change, especially from the evening ’s earlier offerings.
13th director Ava DuVernay shuffles in with her mother and greets you with a hug. She tells you she hopes the best-picture mix-up doesn’t overshadow the significance of a film centering the experience of a poor, black, gay man winning an Oscar.
That point certainly isn’t lost on Moonlight star Naomie Harris, who acknowledges she’s still processing the win.
For their part, Moonlight’s Alex R. Hibbert and Jharrel Jerome do their processing on the dance floor, grooving to Sugarhill Gang’s
Apache (Jump On It) and Pitbull’s I Know You Want Me (Calle
Ocho). And, at one point, co-star Ashton Sanders slips out of the room, his cellphone to his ear and a smile on his face, saying, “Unbelievable.”
It’s a fitting word for the night.
Fences’ Viola Davis gives a spirited speech as she accepts her best-supporting-actress award.
Naomie Harris and Dwayne Johnson exchange greetings outside the Dolby Theatre Sunday.