I watched the Oscars with a cynical group.
In fact, because I was in LA this year, I watched the Oscars with two cynical groups; the gang at my friend Lauren's house in LA and, via text, the group at my friend Emily's apartment in New York.
To give you a sense of just how cynical these groups are, the girl sitting next to me in LA mumbled, "The Oscars, brought to you by Final Cut Pro," as soon as the presentations started.
When Jennifer Aniston co-presented the Best Animated Feature award with Jack Black, everyone in the LA room chanted, "Cut to Brad and Angelina! Cut to Brad and Angelina!" and cheered when a camera finally did. (There was also some speculation that someone might have lost his job last night for cutting to that shot.)
And when Ben Stiller's spoofed Joaquin Phoenix's appearance on Letterman, one of the New Yorkers texted, "I have a feeling he's not laughing with us."
The LA group decided that Jack Nicholson was absent because he was at a Lakers game and that the semi-circle of previous winners on stage presenting the awards was a scientology thing. My friend Lauren asked if it would have killed Phillip Seymour Hoffman to take a shower.
But perhaps the most cynical moments were when Heath Ledger's family accepted Best Supporting Actor award on his behalf, and someone in New York texted, "Brad Pitt really overdid the Heath camera shot." And later when someone in LA said dryly, "I'm surprised they didn't put Mel Gibson in the Holocaust montage."
People even commented on the commercials. During the arthritis medication ad, someone in the LA group said, "Side effects: arthritis."
There was only one part of the Oscars everyone took seriously: Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's truly remarkable acceptance speech for Best Original Screenplay.
In an industry that values physical qualities over integrity, where the studios often seem more concerned with pumping out clichéd, mass produced drivel than brave and original works of art, it was refreshing to see someone with a soul holding one of those golden statues.
Certainly some of the cynicism among my friends last night was due to us being a particularly tough crowd (two particularly tough crowds), and not just to the campy event itself. But all of us -- straight and gay -- at both Oscar watching parties shut up during Black's acceptance speech. Some of us even teared up. Milk was a good movie and it was nice for Black to win an Oscar, but what got us was his greater mission. Black looked into the camera and said:
If Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than by their churches, or by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value. And that no matter what everyone tells you, God does love you, and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.
He might have saved lives with that speech.
In keeping with his promise of equal federal rights, here is a podcast I did with Evan Wolfson, founder and Executive Director of FreedomToMarry.org about the legal battles left for the gay community to fight and the most important thing for even apolitical gay Americans to do to achieve equality.
Black showed us that Hollywood can be a force for good. I hope the rest of the industry takes note.