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Politics were a relative no-show at Oscars ceremony

The political sandstorm many expected from Sunday's Academy Awards never materialized.

Was everyone simply exhausted by the long awards-show trail leading to the Oscars? Case in point: The brilliant and deserving Mahershala Ali, best supporting actor winner for "Moonlight."

Perhaps on the advice of his agent or his inner career compass, Ali declined to reprise his Screen Actors Guild acceptance speech from a few weeks back, in which he noted his religion (he's a Muslim) and the recent Trump administration initiatives that many view as deeply unfriendly and, yes, un-American, regarding travel bans and other policies Hollywood detests.

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The political speech-making came and went, on a surprisingly low level, throughout the 89th Oscars presentation. Mostly the jabs at our current, controversial president provided emcee Jimmy Kimmel (he's good; funny; dry; a nice ear for pacing; have him back, I say) with solid material all evening. Nothing too edgy, really. The mean tweets lifted from his own talk show worked well enough. The Mel Gibson needling proved shrewd and effective.

The movies of color ("Moonlight,"  "Hidden Figures," "Fences") contended with the big movie of pallor ("La La Land"). In that regard, the Oscars really were like America today. 

A handful of winners found their methods in reminding viewers of America's fierce culture war. "Zootopia," winner of the best animated feature, provoked co-director Richard Moore to remind us that the movie was about racial profiling, allegorically speaking, and that "tolerance" will always crush "fear."

Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance presented an award and slipped in a lovely little line about opposition, political or otherwise, and its special urgency at this particular moment in American democracy. Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs made mention of the increased "diversity" and "inclusiveness" among the academy voting ranks.

But the strongest, clearest, loudest voice of political dissent came from an Oscar winner who declined to appear in person.

From Iran, writer-director Asgar Farhadi won the foreign-language film prize for "The Salesman." Earlier this week he and his fellow foreign-language nominees signed a joint letter of protest, following the Trump administration's travel ban targeting seven majority-Muslim nations.

Farhadi's Oscar, his second, was accepted by Iranian astronaut Anousheh Ansari, who read Farhadi's statement.

“I'm sorry I'm not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.” Firouz Naderi, a former NASA director, joined Ansari on stage at the Dolby Theatre.

“Dividing the world into `us' and `enemies' categories creates fear,” Ansari read from Farhadi's statement. The movies create empathy, in Farhadi's words, “between us and others, an empathy that we need today.”

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