October 22, 2019

Oscar smiles on Jewish talent: ‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land’ win big

It is safe to say that the happiest Jewish nominee at Sunday evening’s Academy Awards fete was producer Jeremy Kleiner, whose movie “Moonlight” was named Best Picture of the Year.

He clambered on the stage after an epic foul-up in which presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced “La La Land” as the winner.

A close second in this unofficial category was Justin Hurwitz. The songwriter, looking even younger than his 31 years, won the golden statuettes for best musical score and best original song (“City of Stars”) in “La La Land,” abetted by fellow tribesman Benj Pasek, who wrote the lilting lyrics.

Damien Chazelle, who got the best director nod for “La La Land,” deserves mention in this report as a “near” Jew. His two Catholic parents were dissatisfied with their son’s education at a church Sunday school and enrolled him in the Hebrew school of a liberal synagogue.

Over the next four years, Chazelle recalled, “I had this period in my life where I was very, very into Hebrew and the Old Testament and then I went with my class to Israel when we were in the sixth grade. I don’t think they even knew I wasn’t Jewish; I was, like, ‘passing.’”

Adding to the winning Jewish contingent was Ezra Edelman, who topped the documentary feature category with “O.J.: Made in America,” while Kenneth Lonergan won for his original screenplay for “Manchester by the Sea,”

Lonergan’s biological father was Irish, but he was raised by his Jewish mother and stepfather. “I always assumed that everyone was Jewish,” he told the New Yorker last year. After he met a few gentiles, he acknowledged ‘Oh, not everyone is Jewish’ – but that took a while to sink in.”

Mel Gibson, mostly in the news in recent years for his anti-Semitic outburst and comments, was granted Hollywood’s version of redemption when “Hacksaw Ridge,” directed by Gibson, won Oscars for best film editing and sound mixing.

Host Jimmy Kimmel broke with a long-standing Oscar tradition by abstaining from Jewish jokes. However, the foil of the evening, both in Kimmel’s monologues and in winners’ acceptance speeches, was, predictably, President Donald J. Trump.

Playing off Trump’s previous attack on Meryl Streep, Kimmel introduced her as “the overrated actress,” before asking the audience to give her “an undeserved round of applause.”

In addition, when the Iranian movie “The Salesman” was named the best foreign-language film, the audience burst into enthusiastic applause, after a written statement by its director, Asghar Farhadi, was read by his designated stand-in.

She explained Farhadi’s absence as a protest against Trump’s order banning citizens from seven countries with majority Muslim populations from entering the United States for at least 90 days. The ban has so far been suspended by U.S. courts.