Even as the controversy over the second year of #OscarsSoWhite simmers down a few notches with the Academy’s accelerated efforts to diversify its membership, Hollywood’s major professional guilds continue to make clear statements that could be termed #NotSoWhite.
The Screen Actors Guild recently anointed actor Idris Elba with two SAG awards after he was left out of Oscar nominations, and Saturday night, it was the Directors Guild’s turn to doubly honor a person of color at its 68th annual awards.
In a move that will go down in history books, the DGA bestowed its esteemed feature film directorial award to Alejandro G. Iñárritu for the second year running, for “The Revenant.” Last year, he’d taken the medallion for “Birdman.”
The DGA Awards are unique in that each of the five feature film award nominees are extensively lauded by a colleague — often the star of their film — and given an opportunity to make a speech. Because the ceremonies are not televised and despite the fact that they’re asked to keep it tight, there is in effect no time limit on any of these speeches, no music to play anyone off the stage. And no one seems to mind. There is also a dessert break about midway through the awards, which were held in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, furthering lengthening the gala.
In addition to Iñárritu, the other feature film directors spotlighted throughout the evening were Ridley Scott, George Miller, Adam McKay and Tom McCarthy.
Leonardo DiCaprio spoke eloquently of his experiences making “The Revenant” with Iñárritu, adding to the lore that has already developed around the extreme cold and hardships the crew and cast endured during the production.
“There was a look in his eyes, sort of uncharted territory, that resulted in a groundbreaking cinematic achievement that is already part of film history,” said DiCaprio, who is the frontrunner for best lead actor going into the Oscars after his multiple wins during this awards season for portraying Hugh Glass, a 19th century fur trapper who barely survives a savage mauling by a grizzly bear and seeks retribution for the murder of his mixed-race son.
Iñárritu, during his speech before he was named the night’s winner, spoke of the posttraumatic stress disorder he suffered due to the production but called it “the best experience of my life – a true honor.” “Working on this film for two years was an absolute privilege,” he said. “Risk-taking is the definition of cinema whether it is financial or artistic. But there was support of this vision. We all know that film is like climbing a mountain and in this case it was very cold and high. I want to thank Leo and Tom [Hardy} and the cast and crew for that. This honor from the DGA feels like a hug from my peers which helped make winter feel warmer.”
Being cold became a running joke through the evening, and both Iñárritu and DiCaprio were called out several times in joking comments, including one admonishing the actor to stand up when someone walked by his table on the way to the stage to accept an award.
Matt Damon, in his speech about working with director Ridley Scott on “The Martian,” made it a point to contrast the working environments. “Hey Leo, we weren’t cold at all. Just saying, there’s another way to go,” he crowed about shooting in the desert made to look like Mars. “And we never went into meal penalty. The horn would blow at 6 p.m. and Ridley and I would go have dinner. We finished a week early, and saved $2 million,” he said, needling unnamed filmmakers who have gone over schedule and over budget, and also provoking the envy of indie films that operate on a fraction of that amount.
More humor came when Lily Tomlin presented the field for comedy series. “You know what they say – dying is easy, comedy is hard,” she said. “But whatever they say about comedy, it’s never funny.”
“Veep’s Chris Addison took the prize for directing an episode called “Election Note,” and made a joke about how “Trump for President” stickers would be unlikely to be affixed to Teslas in the parking lot.
The race for dramatic series featured the directors of some of television’s most honored shows—“Downton Abbey,” “Mad Men,” “Homeland,” “The Knick” and “Game of Thrones” in the competition. David Nutter of “Game of Thrones” prevailed over Steven Soderbergh, Matthew Weiner, Lesli Linka Glatter and Michael Engler.
HBO notched yet another trophy when Dee Rees was awarded the DGA medallion for movies for television and miniseries for her direction of “Bessie.”
She mentioned the diversity controversy in her acceptance speech. “I feel like they only talk about half of the conversation,” Rees said. “It’s not only with the films that weren’t nominated, it’s with the films that were nominated. I think a lot of mediocrity gets celebrated, and I don’t think all the movies are getting watched and judged and fairly seen because of their subject matter.”
Of the 47 nominees in the DGA categories, 14 were female– yet she was the only one to go home with a win.
When it came time for the presentation of the feature film award at the close of the night, which is normally done by the previous year’s winner, protocol had to be changed because of Iñárritu. Instead, director Tom Hooper, who won the DGA in 2011 for “The King’s Speech,” presented the award.
“I feel like a deer caught in the headlights,” said a visibly emotional Iñárritu as he took the podium. He then invoked Donald Trump’s name–and his defamation of people from Mexico, where the director was born and raised.
“When I went as a nominee back there, there was more than 120 Mexicans in the kitchen that serve you hot food, and that was the best party I had. Viva Mexico! That’s not the people Donald Trump has described at all, let me tell you. This hug, this embrace you’re giving to me today, is going to a whole country, a whole Latin American community in this country. The people who live here contribute a lot to this country.”
Later he said that there were three classes of people. “There’s the third class that has a superiority complex. There’s the second class that has an inferiority complex. And there’s the first-class, who will treat everyone equally.”