Westchester, the Arts Represented at 2017 Oscars

This week’s “This and That by JL” is a post by Mary Alice Franklin, ArtsWestchester’s prodigious Communications Manager & ArtsNews Editor, who stayed glued to the TV screen to the bitter end on Oscars night. Seems like Westchester is a county of talent, which Mary Alice has assured us of.

Through the blunders and flubs, Westchester and the arts were significantly represented in last night’s Academy Awards® ceremony.

In fact, the most-talked-about story of the night included a Westchester notable. The La La Land team proudly took to the stage for the Best Picture award before an announcement that the winner had been incorrectly announced – a moment that will go down in Oscars® history. One of the men who spoke on behalf of the movie, and then so graciously congratulated the actual winning movie, Moonlight, was La La Land producer Fred Berger, a Mamaroneck native.  Though Moonlight took Best Picture, Berger will be remembered during this unforgettable moment for the calm-under-pressure with which he handled the situation. Not to fret, La La Land took home six awards, including Best Actress (Emma Stone) and Best Director (Damien Chazelle).

Berger who, according to LoHud worked at local cable station LMCTV early in his career and graduated from Mamaroneck High School, will return to the County on March 8. As part of The Center for Continuing Education’s “Notable Neighbors” series, he will be interviewed by his former film teacher, Michael DiGennaro.

Westchester was represented by other honorees as well:  Mel Gibson, a Peekskill native, was nominated for Best Director for his film Hacksaw Ridge, which was also nominated for Best Picture. Mount Vernon native Denzel Washington was nominated in the Best Actor category for Fences.  Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was nominated for Best Original Song for the film Moana, even gave a shout-out to San Marko Formals & Fine Men’s Wear, the Yonkers shop where the Inwood native got his Oscars tuxedo. In fact, it’s the very same shop where he got his prom tux in 1998.

Among the thank yous, political statements and tears of joy, several acceptance speeches pointed to the importance of the arts – an essential reminder of the impact that the arts can have in the face of potential federal budget cuts:

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won Best Foreign Language Film for The Salesman. In a statement about how filmmaking can be an agent for social change and unity, he said (via a statement given by Anousheh Ansari, who accepted the award for him): “Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever.”

When La La Land won the award for Best Original Song (“City of Stars”), composer Justin Paul gave a shout-out to the public school he attended: “”I was educated in public schools, where arts and culture were valued and recognized and resourced, and I’m so grateful for all my teachers, who taught so much and gave so much to us.”

For the same award, Paul’s musical teammate Benj Pasek thanked his mother, who let him quit the JCC soccer league to be in a school musical: “So this is dedicated to all the kids who sing in the rain, and all the moms who let them.”

Finally, Best Actress Viola Davis spoke of her pride for her profession: “I became an artist, and thank God I did because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.

photo above – credit: Mark Suban / (c)A.M.P.A.S.

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