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And the winner actually is …The final-act confusion over the best picture award that had movie moguls staggering out of the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood after Sunday’s Academy Awards was a fitting conclusion to a show that had been pulling off a more...

After all the crazy Oscar drama live onstage, one idea endures: the power of empathy

And the winner actually is …The final-act confusion over the best picture award that had movie moguls staggering out of the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood after Sunday’s Academy Awards was a fitting conclusion to a show that had been pulling off a more...

After all the crazy Oscar drama live onstage, one idea endures: the power of empathy

And the winner actually is …

The final-act confusion over the best picture award that had movie moguls staggering out of the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood after Sunday’s Academy Awards was a fitting conclusion to a show that had been pulling off a more artful bait-and-switch all night.

The expectation was that Hollywood would slam President Trump as it had done throughout the awards season. The question on the minds of Oscar watchers going into the ceremony was who would be most likely to follow in Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes footsteps.

Would one of the acceptance speeches turn into a broadside? Would a presenter go rogue and exhort Americans to rise up and resist? Or would the political fervor be reserved for the stealth satire of host Jimmy Kimmel, who in his opening monologue joked that “this broadcast is being watched in 225 countries that now hate us.”

Complete list of Oscar winners

Kimmel, whose demolition jobs are delivered with the smoothness of a barber giving an old-fashioned shave, had an irresistible target, and he certainly got in his share of presidential licks. But there was another famous figure in his crosshairs, Matt Damon, the good-sport target of a fake celebrity feud.

It wasn’t as if Kimmel lost sight of Trump during the ceremony. There was a hilarious bit late in which he tweeted the Tweeter-in-Chief to see if he might be secretly watching. (The absence of social media venom from the White House prompted the check-in.) But Damon served as a jocular safety valve, rescuing Kimmel from becoming too focused on the elephant not in the room.

The Oscars has many different audiences, not all of them natural couch-fellows. Experiencing the ceremony from inside the Dolby Theatre as a first-time attendee, I was fascinated by how the show managed the tightrope act of appealing to movie industry elites who dressed to the nines for the occasion and to the more casually attired viewers from all over the world who make up Hollywood’s maddeningly heterogeneous consumer base. 

Producer Marc Platt, accepting the best picture award for “La La Land” (before it was discovered that, oops, the winner was really “Moonlight”), delivered an eloquent speech in which he made the distinction between “the Hollywood community” that he was so proud to be part of and “the Hollywood in the hearts and minds of people everywhere.” The show, acutely conscious of these two groups, found a way to speak simultaneously to them by appealing to what unites them — the basic human need to connect through storytelling.

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The word of the night was “empathy,” which liberals would be quick to read as an antonym of “Trump” and conservatives as code for Trump-bashing. But Viola Davis clarified the meaning in the context of the arts when she movingly accepted the supporting actress award for her performance in “Fences.”

Speaking with the intense emotional lucidity that is the hallmark of her acting, she immediately got down to brass tacks: “You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place. And that’s the graveyard.”

Her mission as an actress, she said, is to exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big, and never saw those dreams to fruition.” The kind of ordinary lives August Wilson, the author of “Fences,” devoted his exemplary career to resurrecting. “I became an artist and thank God I did because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life,” Davis said, transcending politics with the humanism of art.

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.

The verbal ripostes at the Academy...

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.

The verbal ripostes at the Academy...

There were speeches that editorialized more explicitly on Trump’s policies. Gael García Bernal took issue with the White House’s immigration plans, saying, “As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I am against any form of wall that wants to separate us.” And a statement from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose movie “The Salesman” received the foreign film award, explained that his absence was “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.”

It was interesting to see up-close the mixed reaction to these political moments at the Dolby, where those not applauding were as conspicuous as those who were. Support for these positions clearly outweighed the silence, but “liberal Hollywood” isn’t the monolith imagined in conservative jeremiads. Some in the audience were simply not comfortable in expressing a political opinion, but a few others appeared to be wearing a look of weary forbearance. 

No one, however, could argue with the basic thrust of the evening that dividing people into enemy camps isn’t the way to move forward or to stay sane. Opposition, as the brilliant Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance observed while presenting the supporting actress award, shouldn’t have to devolve into hatred. Even a liberal stalwart like Warren Beatty hewed to this message, prefacing his presentation of the night’s final award with the idea that “our goal in politics is the same as our goal in art. And that is to get to the truth.”

The truth that collected trophies on Sunday was more diverse than the previous year that gave us the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. This was a cause of celebration. The academy had taken steps to respond to the outcry that it wasn’t doing enough to expand its tent. Hollywood still has entrenched structural problems, but the Oscars had reason to pat itself on the back, even if the bungling of the evening’s top prize cheated “Moonlight,” the first LGBT film to win for best picture, of its turn in the sun.

Audience members at the Dolby, many of whom were connected to particular films, didn’t know how to react when it was announced that “La La Land” had been mistakenly given the award. Some supporters of the film shook their heads in dismay while “Moonlight” champions, given an unexpected reprieve, seemed to distrust their joyous windfall. It was a surreal ending, but progress can be a slippery ride and there was happy amazement that a small-budget film about a young gay protagonist of color managed to pull off such a feat. 

As a theater critic, I was heartened to see the way theater and film have become so entwined (an especially fetching sight on Tony-winning scenic designer Derek McLane’s gorgeous Hollywood Golden Age set). Picking up awards were playwrights (Kenneth Lonergan, the writer and director of “Manchester by the Sea,” and Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play gave rise to “Moonlight”), Broadway songwriters (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of the Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen,” who contributed to the  songs of “La La Land”) and actors with deep theatrical roots (such as the Juilliard-trained Davis, a Tony and Obie winner, and NYU-trained Mahershala Ali, who thanked his illustrious acting teachers).

Lin-Manuel Miranda (the suddenly ubiquitous genius behind “Hamilton”) and Sara Bareilles (the stunningly talented singer-songwriter who wrote the score for the Broadway musical “Waitress”) added to the polished verve of the show through their musical performances. All of the numbers were executed with such Broadway precision that I kept forgetting that they were being televised worldwide.

As Hollywood seeks to widen its range of stories, it only makes sense that it would turn to the theater, which has traditionally been more welcoming of marginalized voices. Embracing diversity not as a political platform but as a human imperative is an effective way of rebutting the charge of elitism that has been leveled at the arts by conservative ideologues.

The one discordant note of the evening was the overextended segment in which Kimmel had tourists troop through the glamorous audience and intermingle with their favorite stars. In a show that was all about dissolving the line between us and them, this comedy routine inadvertently reinforced the old divisions while chasing after cheap laughs.

But this was the exception in a highly theatrical night that was brilliantly calibrated to remind us of the power artists have to unite us through cinematic storytelling. It is through this magical lens that the most distant and disparate lives are brought into close proximity and the strange suddenly become uncannily familiar. 

Watch a time-lapse of the 89th Academy Awards red carpet in two minutes.

Watch a time-lapse of the 89th Academy Awards red carpet in two minutes.

Watch a time-lapse of the 89th Academy Awards red carpet in two minutes.

Watch a time-lapse of the 89th Academy Awards red carpet in two minutes.

"Moonlight" won the best picture Oscar after a botched announcement threw the ceremony into chaos.

"Moonlight" won the best picture Oscar after a botched announcement threw the ceremony into chaos.

Staff writer Tre'vell Anderson asks 2017 Academy Awards ceremony attendees to discuss the significance of the Oscars.

Staff writer Tre'vell Anderson asks 2017 Academy Awards ceremony attendees to discuss the significance of the Oscars.

A time-lapse video of the Oscars red carpet.

A time-lapse video of the Oscars red carpet.

WATCH: Barry Jenkins, writer and director of "Moonlight," on the red carpet at the 2017 Academy Awards. "Everyone looks to the filmmaking community to reflect the world we live in," he said. And after the Oscars? "I'm going to Mexico," he said. "I'm going to the Yucatan."

WATCH: Barry Jenkins, writer and director of "Moonlight," on the red carpet at the 2017 Academy Awards. "Everyone looks to the filmmaking community to reflect the world we live in," he said. And after the Oscars? "I'm going to Mexico," he said. "I'm going to the Yucatan."

charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

Follow me @charlesmcnulty

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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