The story of Oscars 2023: redemption, everywhere and for everything, including Hollywood itself | Leila Latif

At least no one got slapped. After last year, the Oscars had a ludicrously low bar to clear, and it managed to do just that. It was clear that this was a ceremony, and an industry, that wanted to move on from the past.

And yet … the Academy Awards just can’t quite escape the theme of trauma or lingering historical pains, whether in real life or on screen.

Many of the winners, and the subjects, reflected upon what it was to live with trauma, and thrive in spite of it. Women Talking, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Whale and the big winner, Everything Everywhere All At Once: it seemed like everywhere you looked the Academy was garlanding films that probed past violence and sadness. The costumier Ruth E Carter spoke about how she was inspired by the late Chadwick Boseman and her own mother’s passing.

Brendan Fraser could barely catch his breath during his best actor speech, seemingly overwhelmed by being rewarded by an industry in which he had been sidelined for so long. Fraser has made no secret of what he has overcome. This awards season, he boycotted the Golden Globes, saying: “My mother didn’t raise a hypocrite.” It was a reference to an alleged groping he experienced in 2003 at the hands of Philip Berk, former president of the organisation behind the Globes – understood to be one reason why Fraser “retreated” from Hollywood for so long. (Berk called Fraser’s account “a total fabrication” in 2018, but has also apologised to the actor without admitting any wrongdoing.)

The narrative of industry redemption also graced the stories of Ke Huy Quan, who picked up best supporting actor, and Michelle Yeoh, who has spoken much about the struggle for recognition. Their film, Everything Everywhere All At Once, was positioned as a David in a sea of Goliaths, but it ended up charming the Academy. The unfulfilled potential of its characters was shared by much of its team, who had suffered a lack of opportunity and acknowledgment from the Hollywood powers that be.

The brilliant Sarah Polley, who has spoken of what she went through as a child actor during the production of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, gained a well-deserved statuette for adapting Women Talking, based on a Miriam Toews novel on the real-life abuse of women in a Mennonite community. Then there was, of course, All Quiet on the Western Front, a visceral reflection on the traumas of the first world war, which won four Oscars, including best international film.

While there were strong nominees in every category, and many came to the Oscars expecting Elvis, Top Gun: Maverick and The Banshees Of Inisherin to triumph, perhaps it’s not surprising that, after a pandemic, a slap and a cultural reckoning around those who have been left out of mainstream narratives, the old razzle-dazzle of the likes of Baz Luhrmann went unrecognised. However we try to breeze past it, we’re all in some state of recovery, and stories of redemption and rebirth have a particular appeal.

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