by William Preston Robertson
So I've been thinking about Frances McDormand's Oscar acceptance speech--in which she improbably took a wonky industry legal term like "inclusion rider" and managed to turn it into a hashtag of societal change through the sheer power of her delivery. It solidified something I've noticed about her award acceptance speeches through the years, dating back to her best actress Oscar for Fargo.
In a glamorous forum known for lofty orations about social justice by people in tuxes and gowns--orations playing not just to the glitterati, but to TV households throughout the land, and indeed to humanity at large; orations that are tremendously satisfying in their emotions and drama, but ephemeral and unimpactful at their best, and trendy and fatuous at their worst--McDormand's speeches have consistently avoided speechifying and vaporous loft and instead offered practical, down-to-earth, no-bullshit observations to the industry about itself, going so far as to suggest if not a strategic plan for moving forward, at least some very helpful, specific behavioral modifications that could lead to cultural change.
"Yes, we all need to be healthy. You wanna be healthy? Eat your fucking vegetables. Here's the location of a produce stand with really good broccoli. It's just down the block. Oh, and by the way, I love the other actresses nominated, as well as my husband and son. Now go." That's the template of Frances McDormand's acceptance speeches through the years.
McDormand's not a Hollywood star. She's an actress. She's a really, really accomplished, very famous, highly celebrated, average everyday actress. She's down-to-earth. She doesn't do the red carpet celebrity stuff, and it plays out in her acceptance speeches.
When you're a Hollywood Star and you give an acceptance speech, the next day, everyone wonders if you'll be running for president, but no one talks about the substance of your speech.
If you're Frances McDormand, no one wonders if you're running for president the next day--but everyone is scrambling to look up what the hell an "inclusion rider" is and why it's so important.
It'll be interesting to see which speech style affects the greater industry change. The self-congratulatory call to better health. Or the directions to the broccoli vendor.