Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron dance on stage during the 85th Academy… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
The tonal dissonance of 85th Academy Awards had much to do with its treatment of women. Even as Seth MacFarlane's humor inflamed feminists, many of the musical numbers celebrated the strength and power of female performers and pride of place was saved for one powerful woman -- First Lady Michelle Obama.
MacFarlane touts himself as an equal-opportunity offender, and the show did include racial jokes, barbs at Jews and even a Nazi gag. Yet much of his humor was tied to insulting women. From the introduction-within-an-introduction that allowed him to deliver a crude song about actresses' breasts to reducing Jessica Chastain's tough-as-nails performance as a CIA analyst in "Zero Dark Thirty" to "every woman’s innate ability to never let anything go," MacFarlane's gags often objectified or denigrated them.
Even Quvenzhane Wallis' feat of becoming the youngest best actress nominee was transformed into a joke about how long it would be before the 9-year-old becomes too old to date George Clooney.
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"MacFarlane's boob song, the needless sexualization of a little girl, and the relentless commentary about how women look reinforced, over and over, that women somehow don't belong," wrote Margaret Lyons on New York magazine's Vulture blog, pointing also to MacFarlane's quip about women giving themselves the stomach flu so they can look camera-ready for the night's broadcast.
"They matter only insofar as they are beautiful or naked, or preferably both. This wasn't an awards ceremony so much as a black-tie celebration of the straight white male gaze."
In an interview Monday, Brenda Chapman, who won an Oscar on Sunday night for her animated film “Brave,” said: “I’m just a little tired of the fifth-grade school-boy humor.”
“It’s running rampant in Hollywood and I’m over it. Can we move on and be intelligent again?” she asked.
Chapman said she attended the show with her 13-year-old daughter, who was equally astounded by MacFarlane’s opening song centered on actresses’ breasts. “If you are going to talk about boobs, can you throw in a few [penises]? Talk about ‘Shame.’ Mention that movie.”
Yet MacFarlane's remarks were interspersed with powerhouse performances by songstresses of all ages, a surprise appearance by Obama, to present the night's biggest prize no less, and a brief tribute to the young woman at the center of the documentary short "Inocente."
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Charlize Theron surprised audiences with her graceful dance number with Channing Tatum, while singers as varied in age and experience as Shirley Bassey, 76, Barbra Streisand, 70, Adele, 24, and Jennifer Hudson, 31, commanded the stage with energetic, classy performances.
Chapman described the performances by Streisand, the "Les Miserables" cast and Adele as “once-in-a-lifetime” moments, echoing Amy Davidson who wrote in the New Yorker:
"What the women actually showed during the evening was that they worked a lot harder, and a lot smarter, than Seth MacFarlane. Shirley Bassie sang 'Goldfinger,' and Adele sang 'Skyfall' -- it's notable that two of the better moments in the show involved Bond films -- and Barbra Streisand was mesmerizing with 'The Way We Were.' Either by dint of age or body type or simple strength and craft, none of the three were what the Oscars had been telling women that they had to be -- a reminder that it's best not to listen to guys like MacFarlane."
By the end of the broadcast, many female viewers probably agreed with a William Shatner gag early in the show that poked fun at MacFarlane. Appearing as Capt. Kirk from "Star Trek," Shatner joked that MacFarlane was ruining the Oscars and the academy should have hired Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, whose funny-yet-kind stint emceeing at the Golden Globes this year was widely praised.
"Why can't Tina and Amy host everything?" he said.
The ping-pong between the two poles of regard and disdain for women were mimicked offline too. Perhaps most notably, the satirical website The Onion posted an offensive tweet about Wallis, referring to her with a vulgarism referencing female genitalia. The tweet was immediately and widely blasted, with "The Wire" actor Wendell Pierce leading the charge via his own Twitter feed.
The site deleted the message an hour after it was posted and issued an apology to the young actress Monday morning.
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"Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better," wrote the site's chief executive, Steve Hannah.
Yet Wallis was clearly feeling supported during the broadcast, and appeared charged up after watching so many women command the stage. (It probably also served as useful preparation for her next role as the spirited young orphan in the remake of "Annie.")