This year’s Academy Awards were always going to be weird, but I didn’t know exactly how weird until Taraji P. Henson walked the red carpet. Resplendent in a gauzy black gown, she touched her interviewer, preternaturally bland pop-cultural staple Ryan Seacrest, on the chin and mused, “The universe has a way of taking care of the good people, you know what I mean?” A Twitter user posted the clip with the comment, “Holy shit Taraji just put a curse on Ryan Seacrest.” The tweet was picked up by outlets like Vanity Fair and Time. Before the show even ended, People had a comment from Henson, who said she hadn’t “shaded” Seacrest: “I did it to keep his chin up,” she explained. “It’s an awkward position to be in. He’s been cleared but anyone can say anything.”
Why was Twitter so eager to believe that Henson had hexed Seacrest on live TV? Well, it’s always been fun to watch him get owned. In this case, though, the schadenfreude was because he’s one of the gazillion dudes in Hollywood who’s been hit with harrowing sexual misconduct accusations. Five months after Harvey Weinstein went down, at an event where many attendees wore Time’s Up pins and spoke about issues of gender, race and sexuality, Seacrest wasn’t the only alleged predator at the center of the festivities. Add to that a ceremony packed with female, queer and nonwhite presenters and performers, where white men who thanked their wives took home most of the awards, and the Oscars were one long night of cognitive dissonance.
The incident with Henson might have been a collective act of wishful thinking, but it wasn’t the only awkward moment on the red carpet. During ABC’s preshow, the hosts noted that some stars weren’t stopping to talk and chalked it up to a widespread disinclination to discuss Hollywood’s reckoning — a surprise, considering how eager everyone who didn’t have charges pending against them had been to promote Time’s Up at the Golden Globes.
Back at E!, Giuliana Rancic, stylists Brad Goreski and Jason Bolden and former Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth analyzed photos of celebrities’ outfits as conspicuously few A-listers chatted with Seacrest. When he joined them for a few minutes, Welteroth — the woman known for turning a glossy teen magazine into the youth arm of the Resistance — looked palpably uncomfortable.
The ceremony itself was a similarly strained, muted affair. In 2017, host Jimmy Kimmel, along with many award winners and presenters, took constant shots at newly inaugurated President Donald Trump. In 2018, it wasn’t so easy for Hollywood to claim the moral high ground. So Kimmel began with an uncharacteristically earnest monologue that ragged on the industry for waiting so long to make female- and POC-fronted superhero movies, for hiring so few women directors and for making a movie called What Women Want that cast Mel Gibson as its star.
He railed against the injustice of Mark Wahlberg earning $1.5 million for his All the Money in the World reshoots while his costar, Michelle Williams, only got $80 a day, despite the fact the two actors share an agent. Kimmel praised Wahlberg (who has a well-known history of racist violence) for donating his paycheck to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. There was a joke in there eventually: “This one really shook me, because if we can’t trust agents, who can we trust?” But the monologue mostly played as Kimmel apologizing for being a straight, white man in a year that was all about the achievements of people who didn’t share his identity.