• Awards

95th Oscars: The Press Room

The 95th Academy Awards have come a long way from the years of #Oscarssowhite. Among the many signs of change: the overwhelming triumph of the Asian-dominated Everything Everywhere All at Once (7 wins out of eleven nominations) with Michelle Yeoh being the first Asian woman to win Best Actress for her role in the film; Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar for Best Animated Film for PinocchioRuth Carter, who won her second Oscar for best costume designer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the only Black woman to win two; and in the category of Best Original Song, “Naatu Naatu” marked the first Indian win. 

Equally important was the political stand against Putin’s Russia with Navalny winning Best Documentary Feature.

Winners are escorted to the press room at the Loews Hotel in the Hollywood/Highland complex to be interviewed in person by journalists and by a virtual press room from all over the world.  

First to come was Guillermo del Toro who was adamant about bringing some of the production of his Pinocchio to Mexico. He said, “We started stop-motion in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, where I’m from. We started in the ’80s with Rigoberto Mora, myself, Daniel Varela, Mariano Aparicio. We started to do Super 8, then we did 16, then we did 35. In Mexico City, Monterrey, there are great animators. I think it’s important that we keep it alive as an industry, as an art form. I have right now two scholarships active for filmmakers, and it is my desire and my commitment now that I’m going to finance a stop motion class in GOBELINS, in the animation school, for Mexican students to go there and specialize in stop motion to give it life.”

del Toro feels very passionate about animation. “It’s important for Mexico and Latin America to look towards animation so that we can compete with creativity, passion, and artistic flair with anything in the world,” he added. “And stop motion allows that. This is an important year for Latin America and Mexico in animation, the festival of Annecy in France dedicates this edition to Mexico. We are going to be there and we are going to push the message as much as we can.”  

Finally, in del Toro’s words, animation needs to be reckoned with: “Directing, writing, production, design, everything we do in animation is as complex or more complex than live action, and it should be recognized. It should be in the forefront and discussed. That was important for me in making this film. This will help us implement more movement in the community in Mexico and in Latin America to keep pushing for still motion which is one of the most democratic forms of animation. All the other forms of animation and digital are too expensive. But a kid with a camera and a model in their room, they can do animation in stop motion, and they can say exactly what they feel.”

Composer M.M. Keeravaani and lyricist Chandrabose winning Best Song for “Naatu Naatu” from the movie RRR was a historical moment. Keeravani said, “Right now I’m on cloud nine, and I feel very blessed to have this kind of greatest recognition of the world for my country, for my culture, for my motherland and for my movie industry from Telugu language.”

“We have a lot of words, lot of expressions, a lot of feeling in our language, very great language and very literary language,” added Chandrabose. “It’s a very musical language to use. If you write Telugu words, it sounds like music. The lines I wrote in the song are [about] the experience in my village, but non‑Telugu people like you people are loving the song.”

““Naatu Naatu” is the pure original cultural and genre of Indian music,” added Keeravaani. “Particularly south Indian music which has a lot of percussions and the rustic texture of the music. To bring it out with the beautiful words written by Chandrabose and beautiful steps composed by our choreographer Prem Rakshith, it’s a great deal of teamwork which brought us this far to win this greatest award.”

“This is actually a historical moment,” said Michelle Yeoh, the first Asian woman to win an Oscar as a leading actress. “I have to thank the Academy for acknowledging, embracing diversity, and true representation. I think this is something that we have been working so hard towards for a very long time, and tonight we broke that glass ceiling. I Kung Fu’d it out and shattered it, and we need this because there are so many who felt unseen, unheard. It’s not just for the Asian community: this is for everyone who’s been identified as a minority. We deserve to be heard; we deserve to be seen; we deserve to have the equal opportunity so we can have a seat at the table.”

To the question of what advice she would you give to people who are afraid to take up space, Yeoh answered, “You should never be afraid. If this is your passion, this is your love, you have to stand up for yourself and for what you believe in and for what you want to do.  I think that is what it is. I’m still here today. Finally, after 40 years, I get this. So never give up. And never let anybody say, oh, you are past your prime.”

Yeoh shared some thoughts about the incredible journey the movie has taken since the film was first shown at SXSW last year. “This movie has helped in some healing process, has helped in communication. It helped to open hearts between families, whether it’s husband and wife, daughters and mothers, daughters and fathers, but just simply family. And we never give up on each other.”

Daniel Kwan, affectionately referred to as one of the two “Daniels” (with Daniel Scheinert) who directed the movie, added, “I think we are in a mental health crisis right now, especially the younger generation. They don’t have much to look forward to, and there’s a lot of pervasive bleakness. I do think that one of the best superpowers I have is to be able to talk about my experience. I had a very similar experience in high school. I had a lot of dark times, and I think the radical, transformative power of joy and absurdity and chasing your bliss is something that I want to bring to people who were like me when I was that age. And this movie is a shotgun blast of joy and absurdity and creativity.”

At the beginning of the evening, Jamie Lee Curtis, holding her first Oscar (her parents, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, were nominated but never won), was not afraid of raising the issue of gender. “Obviously I would like to see a lot more women being nominated so there’s gender parity in all the areas, in all the branches, and I think we’re getting there,” she said. “We’re not anywhere near there. And of course, inclusivity involves the bigger question, ‘how do you include everyone when there are binary choices?’ Which is very difficult. As the mother of a trans daughter, I completely understand that, and yet, to de-gender the category could diminish the opportunities for more women, which is something I have also been working to promote. So it’s a complicated question, but I think the most important thing is inclusivity and more women. Basically, just fucking more women anywhere, anytime, all at once!”

For Brendan Fraser, winning best actor in a leading role for The Whale, where careful makeup and prosthetics transformed him into a 600-pound man, this Oscar marks a major comeback. “I guess it means that I’m going to have to find a job,” he quipped. “This has been incredibly rewarding and affirming, and it’s given me a lesson in humility and gratitude. I’m grateful for this because of the number of people who worked during a time of COVID that we all lived under. I think of all the films we’ve seen this year, there’s a secret ingredient, and my guess is that it’s that concern that we showed for one another and for the work that we do, because we all lived under an existential threat. We didn’t know if there would be a tomorrow.”

The group behind the documentary Navalny brought somber thoughts to the room. “I want the world to remember that right now Alexei Navalny is languishing in prison,” said Daniel Roher, director of the film. “He is the only prisoner who is removed from the general prison population in the Russian penal system. He is in perpetual solitary confinement.  And the reason he is in such abhorrent conditions is because he is the number one oppositionist to this war in Russia. He is the one guy who opposes Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine, and that’s why he’s in solitary confinement. I want to make sure the world doesn’t forget about our guy. I want to make sure that Navalny gets out of prison one day, survives this ordeal. His wife and children want him back. Navalny should be freed. That’s what I want the world to remember tonight.”

To a question from an Iranian journalist, Daniel Roher answered, “We made our film about the leader of the Russian opposition and his quest, to install democracy in Russia.  But this film was not just for Russians. This film was for people all over the world who are living in a context where the tides of authoritarianism come in, come out, and come in again. And what we want our film to remind the world, is that we all have to be on guard for the values that we believe in and the lives that we want to live, and those are democratic values. And that’s what Navalny’s fighting for. I think that this film and this win is in solidarity and in support of not just Alexei Navalny, but of political prisoners around the world, especially and including the struggle for freedom in Iran.”