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<em>The Shape of Water</em> Wins Best Picture as Oscars Target Social Change

“The Shape of Water,” a film about a mute woman who falls in love with a captive reptilian creature, was crowned the best movie of 2017, a timely win in a year when sexual harassment and women’s pay have taken center stage in Hollywood.

The Oscar for best picture was handed out Sunday at the 90th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, in a show carried by ABC and hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. Frances McDormand won for her lead role as a mother seeking justice for her murdered daughter in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” while Gary Oldman was voted best actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.” Guillermo del Toro was named best director for “The Shape of Water.”

This year, Hollywood’s biggest awards show pulled double duty — serving as a forum to tackle sexual harassment, racism and unequal pay in the film industry, and to promote movie-going after U.S. theater attendance fell to a 25-year-low.

“Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed,” McDormand said in her acceptance speech. She used the moment to ask all of the female nominees in every category to stand and uttered two words — “inclusion rider” — as she left the stage, suggesting top actors use their contracts to require diverse and inclusive casts and crew.

Forcing Change

Rather than waiting for Hollywood studios to change, actors and filmmakers have been seeking ways to force more equitable and representative hiring. While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has changed its membership rules and increased its invitations to people of diverse ethnicity, gender and age, studies show the number of women behind or in front of the camera remains low. The numbers are even worse for women of color.

McDormand said backstage that she just learned a week ago that actors can ask for 50% diversity of the cast and crew. “It changes now and I think the inclusion rider will have something to with that,” she said.

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No single film dominated the ceremony, which ran a long 3 hours 52 minutes. Among the studios, 21st Century Fox Inc. emerged as the big winner, with six awards, including those for “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards.”

‘“The Shape of Water” winning speaks to the Academy’s fondness for beautiful stories about the love of going to the movies,” said Erik Davis, managing editor at Fandango, the movie industry website.

Still, the winners reflected the diversity that many have called for in Hollywood. “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards” and “Lady Bird” all feature women in powerful emotional roles, while “Get Out” and “Call Me by Your Name” deal with race and gender identity.

Best Director

The best director was a Mexican filmmaker who was previously nominated twice, while the original screenplay award went to the black man who wrote, directed and produced “Get Out.”

“I’m so proud to be part of a time, a beginning of a movement, where I feel the best films in every genre are being brought to me by my fellow black directors,” said writer-director Jordan Peele. His horror film follows a black man visiting his white girlfriend’s family who learns they kidnap African-Americans to steal their minds and bodies.

Even the advertising in the U.S. broadcast reflected the mood. Samsung Electronics Co.’s commercial depicted two young women embarking on their first creative project, and Netflix Inc. unveiled an ad for its first season of “House of Cards” without disgraced actor Kevin Spacey, featuring actress Robin Wright ascending to the presidency.

The show ranked among the longest. It was expected to be seen by about 30 million viewers in the U.S. and millions more worldwide, though last year ratings fell to the lowest since 2008.