The cameras were off. The show was untelevised. And Melissa McCarthy finally had the chance to tee off on her fellow nominee for the best actress Oscar, Glenn Close.
“I think we all truly find her sketchy,” McCarthy told the audience at the Oscar Wilde Awards in Santa Monica on Thursday night. “And when I say sketchy, I don’t want you to take it the wrong way. I mean truly shady.”
The crowd, including Close, roared with laughter. “Why the two N’s?” McCarthy continued. “Why the double scoop? I think I’m not alone in wondering.”
Close then took the stage and indulged in a bit of playful ribbing herself by intentionally mangling her presenter’s name. “That Melissa McCartney, she’s a whore for the spotlight,” Close said, grinning.
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In January, when she won the Golden Globe for her performance in “The Wife,” Close gave a stirring speech about female empowerment that brought the crowd to its feet; at the far more relaxed Oscar Wilde Awards, sponsored by the U.S.-Ireland Alliance, she simply signed off by saying, “I’m in the middle of my Guinness, and I’m really happy to be here.”
You might expect that by this point in award season, the speeches and sentiment from Hollywood’s most honored performers would become rote. Far from it. At a series of pre-Oscar parties this week, women in the film industry seized their chance to speak at length without fear of being played off by an orchestra, and the results were often funny, heartfelt and impassioned.
At the 12th annual Women in Film Oscar party in Beverly Hills, the producer Cathy Schulman recalled the first Women in Film soiree, which she staged 12 years ago in a living room. 50 people showed up then, but on Friday night at Spring Place, the space was crowded with hundreds of women, including many of this year’s 61 female nominees.
“Don’t stop doing it,” Schulman told the nominees before they gathered for a group photo, “because if there’s anything for us to risk, it’s that this whole achievement gets brushed under the rug again.”
The costume designer Sandy Powell, who is nominated twice this year, for her work on “The Favourite” and “Mary Poppins Returns,” spoke to the crowd about the gender imbalance on film sets. “I really hope that one day, it’s going to be 50/50,” Powell said. “I would love to be working with female grips and electricians.”
She is currently working on a Gloria Steinem biopic directed by Julie Taymor, which prompted her to recall her own feminist streak as a British teenager growing up in the 1970s.
“It was cool to challenge traditional gender roles, not only because we wanted to overthrow the patriarchy, but because we truly believed in the possibility of an egalitarian society,” Powell said. “Looking around at all the amazing women in this room tonight and knowing that Gloria Steinem herself is still going strong, I can be hopeful that things will change.”
The most powerful speeches I saw this week were at Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards luncheon Thursday, where a collection of black female luminaries like Ava DuVernay, Angela Bassett and Janet Mock gathered to honor one another’s contributions in an increasingly diversifying industry that still poses significant challenges for creators of color.
Among the honorees were two actresses overlooked by Oscar, and in their acceptance speeches, they showed just how much the Academy Awards will miss by not including them.
“People ask me all the time ‘How has all of this been? Your life is changing!’” said a tremulous KiKi Layne, who made her film debut last year in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” She continued, “It’s really exciting and I’m so very thankful, but it’s also extremely terrifying.”
“It is the very beginning for me,” she said, near tears. “And being here in this room and receiving this award, it’s showing me that I’m not by myself in all of this.”
Regina Hall, who earned awards buzz this year for her work in “Support the Girls,” spoke honestly about a career in which every high has to be fought for. “I never had a quantum leap that was overnight,” she said. “But there’s so much you learn in the journey, and I’m grateful for that.”
In a funny speech delivered off the cuff, Hall, 48, talked about a palm reader who once told her that she’d be successful later in life. “As women, you feel like you have a clock,” she said. She paid tribute to her agents and lawyers — “They fight for me like I’m a 30-year-old white man,” Hall said — and recalled years of auditioning and struggling to book roles. Once, told she was about to receive a big offer, Hall learned it was actually meant for the actress Regina King.
That sort of career has given her a perspective on awards luncheons. “These moments are amazing and they’re exciting, but they’re fleeting,” Hall said. “Tomorrow will go on. My agent will call me and say, ‘They still haven’t responded.’ It’s never ending.”
She continued, “But it’s not really about that. It’s about what we show each other.” Closing her speech, she scanned the room. “I see you,” she told the crowd of mostly black women. “Sometimes we wait for the world to see us. Let us see each other before the world does.”
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