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A Night to Kilt for / CALENDAR GOES TO THE OSCARS |
TV REVIEW

Real Drama? It Didn't Come From Ribbons

March 26, 1996|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Monday night's Academy Awards telecast on ABC had some grand moments of drama, none more so than actor Christopher Reeve being the epitome of grit and courage on stage while addressing the Oscar throng from his wheelchair, exhorting Hollywood to take more risks.

As he spoke, the camera panned the rapt audience, showing some of Hollywood's finest in tears.

And there was Kirk Douglas, his speech somewhat impaired but still showing up to receive his honorary Oscar only a couple of weeks after suffering a stroke.

Yet the drama that might have been never was.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson asked for something symbolic, and he got it.

The notably harmonious Academy Awards telecast symbolized Jackson's epic tactical goof in designating this year's Oscars a target for a mass protest against Hollywood's "race exclusion and cultural violence."

Noting that only one of the 1996 Oscar nominees was black, Jackson urged that picket lines be set up in protest at ABC stations across the nation Monday night.

As for the telecast, though, the protest got all but excluded.

Jackson's call for attendees to wear rainbow ribbons as a symbol of dissatisfaction with Hollywood's race policies appeared to go mostly unheeded, unless multitudes of them weren't detected by the telecast cameras and the cameras for the pretelecast specials on KABC-TV Channel 7, KTLA-TV Channel 5, KCOP-TV Channel 13 and cable's E! Entertainment Television. A smattering of AIDS ribbons was in evidence (a smaller number than in previous years, signifying that Hollywood may no longer be in a message mode). But only telecast executive producer Quincy Jones was visible wearing a multi-colored one in solidarity with Jackson.

Nor did it help the cause of Jackson and his supporters that they chose to mount this particular soapbox in a year when African American Whoopi Goldberg was the telecast's host, African American Jones its guiding hand and Oprah Winfrey its official greeter outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Um, maybe she should keep her day job.

*

Goldberg's swagger and relaxed, confident performance itself, though, was symbolic of her whopping improvement as host over her showing on the 1994 Oscars. She was very funny this time.

Goldberg's writers adroitly freed her from Jackson's hook by having her mention his protest effort in the context of a rainbow of special interests seeking access to the telecast.

"The Mighty Afro Deity," as she called herself, opened by saying she'd been deluged with requests to wear ribbons, but adding, "You don't ask a black woman to buy an expensive dress and then cover it with ribbons."

Then she ripped off the following:

"I got a red ribbon for AIDS awareness. Done. I got a purple ribbon for breast cancer. Done. I got a yellow ribbon for the troops in Bosnia. Done. I got a green ribbon to free the Chinese dissidents. Done." And on and on she went, joking her way through seven more ribbons before mentioning the one she said Jackson wanted her to wear.

Sounding almost angry that Jackson had put her on the spot, she added: "I had something I might want to say to Jesse right here, but he's not watching, so why bother?"

*

And that was it, Jackson's protest getting flicked away like lint, fleetingly resurfacing much later only when the ribbon-bearing Jones appeared as a presenter, letting his symbol do the talking, and also when presenter Nathan Lane, the co-star of "The Birdcage," made the protest, along with Ross Perot, a butt of a joke: "I just saw Ross Perot outside screaming. He wants to know why more nutty billionaires weren't nominated."

Even Susan Sarandon, known for making Oscarcasts her personal platform for liberal causes, didn't mention the protest when receiving her best actress Oscar.

Although a record 3 hours and 39 minutes (the second acting award, for best supporting actress, did not come until 85 minutes into the telecast), the program ran smoothly except for one embarrassing gaffe.

Presenter Sharon Stone was about to announce an Oscar when she discovered she didn't have the envelope containing the name of the winner. So her co-presenter had to momentarily leave the stage while she ad-libbed, then return and whisper the name of the winner into her ear. That co-presenter was executive producer Jones.

Not that these awards really matter. As presenter Jim Carrey cracked, Oscars are merely "the lord of all knickknacks."

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