Celebrities gathered on the iconic red carpet Sunday night for the 91st annual Academy Awards. Before the show even starts, the Jewish presence can’t be missed. The stars were shining as brightly as they always do, mostly thanks to Martin Katz, the legendary jewelry expert who hooks up plenty of the celebrities for the red carpet. Some stars wore more traditional clothing. A beautiful green smoking jacket was spotted, but that refined elegance had nothing on the eccentric outfit worn by Billy Porter, who was draped in black in what seemed to be a sort-of combination of an old frock coat with a ballroom dress.
By: Michael Eric Rosenthal
The best movie for all of 2018 was “Green Book,” a movie about an Italian-American bouncer who starts working as a driver for a black pianist. The black pianist needs to be driven around the South in the 1960s so he can play his gigs. The award for Best Supporting Actress went to Olivia Colman for “The Favourite,” beating out Glenn Close. Rami Malek won Best Actor for his role in the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and during his acceptance speech, he spoke about how he is “the son of immigrants from Egypt, a first-generation American.”
A little over a couple hours into the night, Israel took home on Oscar. Guy Nattiv and his team were all smiles as they walked up on stage to accept the award for Best Live Action Short Film for their movie, “Skin.” The film examines race by showing a white racist dad getting angry about his son being treated warmly by a black man.
Nattiv spoke from the heart about why the movie was so important to him and why he thinks it’s so important for people to see. “My grandparents are Holocaust survivors,” Nattiv said in front of the audience and on national television. “The bigotry that they experienced in the Holocaust, we see that everywhere today, in America, in Europe.” He concluded by saying he hopes the film can show people how to teach “your kids a better way.” He even wished everyone in Israel “Layla Tov,” before heading off the stage.
Plenty of other Jews were up for nominations as well, like Marc Shaiman for his musical score on “Mary Poppins Returns,” the sequel to the classic Disney film that starred Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke. The composer for “Black Panther,” Ludwig Goransson, took home the Best Original Score award. Shaiman’s song “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from the Mary Poppins movie was also nominated for Best Original Song, a category that was won by the team behind “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born.” Jewish songwriter Marc Ronson helped write that song.
Filmmakers Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, known for films like “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski” had their recent movie, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. While the two Jewish brothers from Minnesota didn’t win the award last night, Spike Lee’s movie “BlacKkKlansman” won the category for Best Adapted Screenplay. The movie, which adapted the story told in the memoir “Black Klansman,” was based on a true story about a law enforcement deep cover operation on the local Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs, Colo.
A black officer poses as a white racist on the telephone and has a white cop stand in for him as a straw man imposter of sorts during in-person interactions. Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz, who co-wrote the movie, took a few liberties with the original story. They made the white cop Jewish in the movie adaptation so that the film would feature a Jew and a person of color teaming up to expose the Ku Klux Klan. They said that they used their own Judaism to channel the writing needed to make that character who he needed to be.
They both have known each other since going to Hebrew school together in East Brunswick, N.J. They knew from that young age that they would make movies and even collaborated on videos for high school, the Jewish Journal reports. They were raised in conservative Jewish households but are more culturally Jewish now.
Adam Driver portrayed the Jewish officer in the movie and was nominated in the category for Best Supporting Actor. The Academy Award went to Mahershala Ali for the pianist role he played in the movie “Green Book.” Regina King won Best Supporting Actress, an award for which Rachel Weisz was nominated for her role as Queen Anne in “The Favourite.”
Brooklyn native, legendary feminist icon, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was spotted at the red carpet, a departure from black robes. She was there for the documentary about her life that was directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West Win, called “RBG.” Speaking in an interview before the awards show, they talked about how they would be happy no matter what.
“It just increases the visibility of a film that was actually quite visible for a documentary, so that’s great,” Cohen said. “I feel like the success, the attention and acclaim for ‘RBG,’ both the woman and our film, certainly gives a boost to projects that Betsy [West] and I want to make together, particularly projects that focus on women.”
Rodney Rothman, who directed “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” spoke before the show about how he thinks of Spiderman as Jewish, and he even sees himself in Peter Parker’s alter ego. They’re both from the Forest Hills neighborhood in Queens, which Rothman describes as a Jewish neighborhood.
Rothman also lived in Scarsdale, not far away on the metro-North Harlem local line and grew up as a reform Jew. The movie even has a scene in which an alternate-universe version of Spiderman breaks a glass at his wedding in the Jewish tradition. “I was bar mitzvahed,” he said. “We observed all the holidays and traditions, and I’ve maintained that. It’s an important part of who I am. I have children now and it’s definitely part of how I raise them. I belong to a temple in Los Angeles and I’m looking forward to becoming more involved as my kids get older.”
“Peter B. Parker is unique to our movie, but [his Jewishness] definitely came from a strong conviction I had and a joking argument we were having in the office,” Rothman said. “It’s our interpretation, knowing what we know about Stan Lee.”
Documentarian Marshall Curry made a short documentary that received a nomination for its harrowing footage of anti-Semitism. About 20,000 people packed into Madison Square Garden for a sight that would normally be unimaginable in America, a rally that looked like it could have taken place in Nuremberg. Protestors gathered outside near the arena, and their anger at such a fascistic display here in America was palpable and visible, with police having make sure nothing got out of hand.
Inside the arena, the leader of the German American Bund, Fritz Kuhn, took center stage with a towering display of George Washington behind him. Kuhn and his group were a small faction in America that supported Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. The depiction of Washington was so disorienting and disturbing because it’s meant to portray the Founding Father and first president as a G-dly figure.
At one point in the short film, a man rushes the stage and is ganged up on and beaten up by brownshirts. A group of police have to run onto the stage to break up the action and escort the man out of the arena and to safety. Isadore Greenbaum was the man courageous enough to dissent against a fascist wannabe charlatan and his 20,000 rabid supporters. He lived in Brooklyn and was only 26, but he had to hear and see for himself what this craziness was all about. After sneaking into the arena, he eventually couldn’t take it anymore and yelled “Down with Hitler” as he ran up to the stage, according to Mosaic Magazine.
The film that won in the category for Best Documentary Short Subject wound up being “Period. End of Sentence.”
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