LOS ANGELES, California – Host Jimmy Kimmel opened the Oscars Sunday with a salvo of jokes targeting President Donald Trump on a night expected to be as remarkable for political protest as for its celebration of Hollywood.
Nostalgic musical “La La Land” is leading the charge for golden statuettes with 14 nominations. And Mahershala Ali took home the first award of the night, the best supporting actor prize for his work in coming-of-age drama “Moonlight.”
But, after Justin Timberlake opened the gala with some upbeat music, Kimmel wasted no time putting the A-list audience in a political state of mind.
“This broadcast is being watched live by millions of Americans and around the world in more than 225 countries that now hate us,” Kimmel said.
The late-night comedian quipped that Trump, who pulled off a political upset win with his campaign that targeted immigration, had taken the heat off Hollywood and its annual gala.
“I want to say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? That’s gone,” Kimmel said.
The entertainment industry has been a bastion of opposition to Trump — who has delighted in hitting back at stars’ criticism via his favorite medium, Twitter.
“Some of you will get to come up here on this stage tonight and give a speech that the president of the United States will tweet about in all caps during his 5 am bowel movement tomorrow. And I think that’s pretty darn excellent, if you ask me,” Kimmel said.
But Kimmel also kept the tone light, asking viewers from a deeply divided America to talk more to one another.
“If we would all do that, we would make America great again,” he said, adapting Trump’s campaign slogan.
In the spirit, Kimmel turned to his long-running, if light-hearted, feud with actor Matt Damon as he pledged that the two would bury the hatchet.
Timberlake strutted into Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre to open the gala, singing his hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” and “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers as he danced past the stars and onto the podium.
Gold Derby, a site that collates experts’ awards predictions, had “La La Land” as a clear favorite, although it is expected to fall short of the record 11 statuettes achieved by “Ben-Hur” (1959), “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” (2003).