LOS ANGELES, March 4 (Reuters) - Comedian Jimmy Kimmel launched his return stint as Oscar host on Sunday by immediately confronting this year’s elephant in the room - the campaign against sexual misconduct and anger at gender inequality roiling Hollywood in recent months.
In his opening monologue, Kimmel employed a sight gag centered on the larger-than-life but anatomically simplified Oscar statue standing on stage for the 90th anniversary presentation of the Academy Awards to make a point.
“Oscar is the most beloved and respected man in Hollywood, and there’s a very good reason why,” Kimmel said. “Just look at him - keeps his hands where you can seem them, never says a rude word and, importantly, no penis at all.”
Then, with a bit of wordplay that drew more uproarious laughter from the star-studded audience in the Dolby Theatre, Kimmel added: “He is literally a statue of limitations. And that’s the kind of man we need more of in this town.”
The joke helped break the tension looming over the awards show from this year’s backlash against a long-cloaked culture of sexual predation in show business.
Kimmel also did not hesitate in calling out onetime Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein, who was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences after more than 70 women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct, including rape.
Weinstein has denied ever having nonconsensual sex with anyone.
“There were a lot of great nominees, but Harvey deserved it the most,” Kimmel said of the expulsion, adding that the only other academy member thrown out of the organization was an obscure character actor punished for sharing confidential movie “screener” videos that ended up on the internet.
“The world is watching us. We need to set an example,” Kimmel said, dryly adding: “If we are successful — if we can work together to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, if we can do that, women will only have to deal with harassment all the time, every other place they go.”
Working in a reference to one of the year’s best-picture nominees, “The Shape of Water” - a romantic fantasy about a cleaning woman who falls in love with a marine creature - Kimmel declared 2017 would be remembered “as the year men screwed up so badly that women started dating fish.” (Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Henderson and Jonathan Oatis)