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‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Picture in Politically Charged Oscar Ceremony

Oscars 2016: Winners Announced at 88thChris Pizzello/Invision/AP

In an upset victory, newspaper drama “Spotlight” won best picture at the 88th Academy Awards over heavily favored survival epic “The Revenant.” The drama about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal also nabbed a statue for its screenplay, while “Mad Max: Fury Road” picked up a leading six Oscars exclusively in technical categories.

SEE MORE: Awards: The Contenders

Though it missed out on best picture, “The Revenant” didn’t go home empty-handed, winning best director for Alejandro G. Iñárritu, best actor for star Leonardo DiCaprio and best cinematography.

It was a politically charged evening, one in which winners and presenters used their moment on stage to shine a light on issues ranging from global warming to campus rape. Sunday’s ceremony also unfolded in the wake of perhaps the biggest controversy the celebration of filmmaking excellence has faced. A backlash over the lack of nominations for actors of color for the second straight year threatened to overshadow the broadcast itself, leading to boycotts from top figures such as Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith, a viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, and a protest outside the Dolby Theater led by Rev. Al Sharpton.

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Returning for a second stint as the broadcast’s host, Chris Rock lost no time dispensing with the elephant in the room. In a monologue that took on the issue of race head-on, Rock went on to note that he considered quitting the hosting gig, before saying he reconsidered.

“The last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart, ” said Rock. He added, “If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. You all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.”

That wasn’t his only zinger. The comedian called the Oscars the “the White People’s Choice Awards, ” dubbed Hollywood “sorority racist, ” and said that black performers want more “opportunity” to loud applause. Race was a subject that Rock returned to throughout the program with gags that included imagining nominated films such as “The Revenant” and “The Martian” recast with African-American actors like Whoopi Goldberg and Tracy Morgan, and a bit that found him interviewing moviegoers outside an urban L.A. theater about the diversity controversy.

A year after scoring a filmmaking Oscar for “Birdman, ” Iñárritu became only the third person in history to win back-to-back Oscars, joining an exclusive group that also includes John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. In an evening where race dominated the conversation, Iñárritu urged this generation to “liberate ourself from all prejudice” and looked forward to a day when “the color of the skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.”

As expected, DiCaprio earned his first Oscar after five previous nominations for pushing himself to physical extremes as a hunter left for dead in the wilderness. His victory came at the expense of Michael Fassbender (“Jobs”), Matt Damon (“The Martian”), Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”), and last year’s winner for “Theory of Everything, ” Eddie Redmayne, nominated for “The Danish Girl.” Accepting his statue, DiCaprio, who is active in environmental causes, noted that the production had to leave Canada for Argentina in search of snow.

“Climate change is real, ” said DiCaprio. “It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.”

Brie Larson nabbed the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of an abducted woman in “Room.” The first-time nominee prevailed over past winners Cate Blanchett (“Carol”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”), as well as Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) and Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”).

In a moment of gratitude that alluded to the technological changes roiling the entertainment business, Larson looked beyond streaming services and on-demand platforms to thank moviegoers “…for going to the theater and seeing our films.”

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