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Politics speak at numerous volumes on Oscar night

Politics speak at numerous volumes on Oscar night
Mahershala Ali won the supporting actor Oscar for his performance in "Moonlight." (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

America has been divided for months by brutal political tactics and outspoken animus. But on Sunday, as it stepped onto its biggest stage, the entertainment industry took another approach in its war against President Trump.

It decided to show rather than tell.

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The verbal ripostes at the Academy Awards were less pointed than might have been expected after a campaign season marked by lopsided Hollywood support of Trump's opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, and angry objections to Trump's early presidential moves by the liberals who dominate the community.

The imagery of the night, however, spoke loudly. Winners included the first Muslim actor ever to receive an Oscar, an Iranian director who boycotted the ceremony in protest of Trump's anti-refugee and immigrant order targeting seven predominantly Muslim countries, and "The White Helmets," a short documentary about the Syrian conflict, the acceptance for which included a quote from the Koran.

The global reach and the diversity of the winners served to distinguish Hollywood from the more inward focus of the president, whose "America First" argument has in many ways distanced the country from other nations, particularly in the Muslim world and next-door Mexico.

Pointed critiques of Trump had marked earlier events in the awards season, most dramatically Meryl Streep's denunciation of him at the Golden Globes and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's blast at the Writers Guild ceremony.

On Sunday, the most obvious effort to repudiate Trump came from the man who was not on the stage: the boycotting Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of the foreign-language Oscar winner, "The Salesman." He had announced well before the ceremony that he would not attend out of respect to citizens of the countries affected by Trump's travel ban.

Anousheh Ansari and Dr. Dirouz Naderi accepted the award for Asghar Farad for the foreign film "The Salesman."
Anousheh Ansari and Dr. Dirouz Naderi accepted the award for Asghar Farad for the foreign film "The Salesman." (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

"I'm sorry I'm not with you tonight," he said in a statement read onstage by Iranian engineer Anousheh Ansari. "Dividing the world into the 'us' and 'our enemies' categories creates fears. A deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression."

But that kind of outspokenness was the exception. Many in the crowd wore blue ribbons in support of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought some of Trump's early policies. In what she called "a small sign of solidarity," director Ava DuVernay announced that she was wearing a gown by a designer from a majority Muslim country. But most of the winners avoided political comments.

Even if they had indulged, any action on Sunday night was unlikely to change public opinion — beyond, perhaps, relief at the ceasing of open hostilities. The first five weeks of Trump's presidency have hardened both supporters and opponents along ideological, political and cultural lines.

If Trump opponents found some solace in the occasional expression of their contempt, his supporters were as likely to view any disdain from the entertainment community as a badge of honor for the president.

The night's host, comedian Jimmy Kimmel, repeatedly went after Trump, beginning one minute into the broadcast when he noted that it was being watched by people in more than 100 countries "that now hate us." But he too struck a conciliatory tone.

"If every one of you took a minute to reach out to one person you disagree with, someone you like, and have a positive, considerate conversation — not as liberals or conservatives, as Americans — if we would all do that, we could make America great again, we really could," Kimmel said, adopting Trump's slogan."It starts with us."

Twitter: @cathleendecker

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