Diversity was the theme — or at least the buzzword — of the 88th Annual Academy Awards.
Host Chris Rock refused to shy away from the racial discussion that’s been circling the ceremony since the all-white nominees were announced in January. Rock opened his monologue directly addressing the #OscarSoWhite social media protest and call for boycott, pointedly asking if Hollywood is racist.
“It’s not burning-cross racist,” Rock said. “It’s a different type of racist. … It’s the racist that you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist.”
The biggest win of the night for LGBT performers came with out crooner Sam Smith's win for Best Original Song, which he won with co-writer Jimmy Napes for their song "The Writing' On the Wall," the theme track to last year's James Bond film, Spectre.
Smith was visibly emotional as he took the stage to accept the award.
"I read an article a few months ago by Sir Ian McKellen and he said that no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar, and if this is the case, even if it isn’t the case, I want to dedicate this to the LGBT community all around the world," Smith said. "I stand here, I stand here tonight as a proud gay man, and I hope we can all stand together as equals one day."
Backstage, Smith spoke with reporters who informed him that he was not the first openly gay man to win an Oscar. Sir Elton John won an Oscar in 1995 for Best Original Song for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from The Lion King, while out screenwriter Dustin Lance Black won for Best Original Screenplay in 2009 for Milk, and out songwriter Howard Ashman has earned two Academy Awards; one in 1989 for "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid, and one 1991 for "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast (both of those awards are shared with Alan Menken). Out producer Scott Rudin also won an Oscar for Best Motion Picture in 2007 with No Country for Old Men, an award he shared with the Coen brothers.
When Smith learned that he wasn't the first openly gay man to win an Oscar, he jokingly shouted "Shit! Fuck that!" Then he asked who had won previous awards, and suggested perhaps he should date those previous winners.
"Two is my lucky number, so it's all good," Smith concluded.
In the press room, Smith told The Advocate that he wanted to demonstrate his support for his community by giving voice to LGBT people in his speech. Winning as an openly gay man "means the world to me," Smith told The Advocate's entertainment editor, Jase Peeples, in the Oscars press room.
"When I read that Ian McKellen piece, I was just bowled over by it," Smith said, referencing an open letter the out actor wrote in January lambasting the Academy for not honoring LGBT actors. "And I just wanted to take this opportunity to show how much I cared about my community. In the past, in my career, people have said at the beginning that I didn’t, and stuff. And I just wanted to make clear how much I truly do care about the LGBT community."
"But at the same time, we’re just completely overwhelmed right now," Smith said of himself and Napes. "We can hardly even speak. We’re a little bit drunk, as well."
Stories about LGBT characters earned recognition early in the evening, when The Danish Girl’s Alicia Vikander took home an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, for her portrayal of Gerde Wegner, the wife of transgender pioneer Lilli Elbe (played by Eddie Redmayne).
Vikander thanked her co-star in her acceptance speech, saying Redmayne was “the best acting partner.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you,” Vikander said on stage. “You raised my game.”
Backstage, Vikander told The Advocate that she hopes the film, which tenderly explores the enduring love between Wegner and her spouse as Elbe discovers her authentic feminine identity, will open hearts and minds to greater acceptance.
Noting that the film took more than 15 years to come to fruition, Vikander marveled at the “social change” that has taken place around trans awareness in the past two years. She mentioned former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out, and the critical success of Amazon’s Transparent and indie film Tangerine.
“I just wish, in the same way that this film has been so educational for me… I hope that it can open up an even wider conversation,” she said.
Vice President Joe Biden recieved a prolonged standing ovation when he took the stage to introduce Lady Gaga, and implore viewers to take a stand against sexual assault by logging on to ItsOnUs.org and making a pledge to intervene when someone "does not or cannot consent" to sexual activity.
The out bisexual performer commanded the stage with a powerful performance of her emotional song "If It Happens to You," nominated for Best Original Song for its inclusion in The Hunting Ground, a documentary film about campus rape.
Dressed in a stunning white suit and seated at a white piano, the bisexual songstress belted out the lyrics on a dark stage — until she was joined by survivors of sexual assault, who took the stage with empowering messages written on their forearms: "Not your fault," "Survivor." The men and women on stage joined hands, and some could be seen shaking as the song reached its crescendo.
After the biggest awards were handed out — Leonardo DiCaprio finally got his Oscar, while investigative journalism drama Spotlight took home the coveted best picture award — Chris Rock signed off by saying into the microphone "Black lives matter."
As the credits rolled, the ABC broadcast played NWA's "Fight the Power."
Vox identities editor (and former Advocate managing editor) Michelle Garcia summed up the closing credits perfectly:
LOL They’re playing “Fight the Power.” It’s the OSCARS — this is the official ceremony of The Power.
— Michelle Garcia (@mzMichGarcia) February 29, 2016