As #OscarsSoWhite fades into the rearview and the Trump era begins, MTV set out this year to produce the wokest award show of all time. It mostly succeeded.
Now called the MTV Movie and TV Awards, this year’s event not only pits television against cinema but has also done away with gendered categories altogether. Best Fight is now Best Fight Against the System, which was presented by none other than Bill O’Reilly nemesis Rep. Maxine Waters, with Hidden Figures, Loving, Luke Cage, and Mr. Robot competing against this year’s most-nominated project, Jordan Peele’s Get Out.
Yet with all this progressive diversity on hand, MTV decided to play it safe by tapping as its 2017 host Workaholics’ Adam DeVine. Hardly a political comedian, DeVine did his best to seize the moment—by opening with a Beauty and the Beast parody and at times acknowledging the fact that he does not have the musical chops of either Hugh Jackman or James Corden.
Things got back on track with Billions star Asia Kate Dillon, the first gender-nonbinary actor to play a gender nonbinary character on television, who presented the first acting award that did not recognize gender to Beauty and the Beast’s Emma Watson.
“Firstly, I feel I have to say something about the award itself,” Watson said in her acceptance speech. “The first acting award in history that doesn't separate nominees based on their sex says something about how we perceive the human experience.”
“MTV’s move to create a genderless award for acting will mean something different to everyone,” she said, as the camera cut to trans actors in the audience. “But to me, it indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories.”
By the time the Best Kiss category rolled around, it was inevitable that it would go to Moonlight’s Jharrel Jerome and Ashton Sanders. “I think it is safe to say, that it is OK for us young performers, especially us minority performers to step out of the box,” Jerome said. “I think it is OK to step out of the box and do whatever it takes to tell the story and do whatever it takes to make a change.”
“This represents more than a kiss,” Sanders added. “This is for those who feel like the others, the misfits, this represents us, so, we love y’all and thank y’all.”
Accepting the Best Fight Against the System for Hidden Figures, Taraji P. Henson said, “The message of this movie is togetherness. I hate the separatism, man versus woman, black versus white, gay versus straight. Whatever. We are all humans, right. God is very clever, God is very clever. He made us all different for a reason. So we better figure it out.”
The wokeness even became self-referential at one point during a bit from DeVine called “Adam Gets It,” in which the actor tried to demonstrate how open-minded he is. On Stranger Things? “Try just ‘Things.’” On Hugh Jackman? “Or as I call him, Hugh Jack-person.” Beauty and the Beast became “Multi-dimensional woman with her own dynamic traits and the Beast” and as far as Jane the Virgin’s title character having sex this past season, DeVine said, “That's none of our damn business!”
Vin Diesel amplified the political message of The Fast and the Furious franchise, which won MTV’s Generation Award. “Most importantly, I’ve got to thank our generation,” the 49-year-old actor said to cheers from the twentysomethings in the audience. “I’ve got to thank a generation that was willing to accept this multicultural franchise, where it didn’t matter what color your skin was or what country you are from. When you’re family, you’re family.”
And when Beauty and the Beast upset Get Out in the Best Movie category—following a painful La La Land/Moonlight Oscars mix-up bit from presenters Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn—director Bill Condon found his message in his hit film’s predominantly female audience. “I just want to say thank you to the audience that embraced this movie so much,” he said. “But especially to the women. Because women have proven that they are a huge and powerful audience and it is going to change the movie business.”
In the end, it took The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah to officially bring Donald Trump into the proceedings. Accepting the Best Host award from Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart, Noah thanked his mother first, “a powerful, strong, black woman,” then President Trump for providing “the comedy” and finally France for “making the right decision.”
Despite Noah’s brief mention of the president, Donald Trump’s name was not invoked in the same way it has been at other award shows over the past year. Unlike the most recent Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and Grammys, there were no great denunciations of the president.
It may have been the ultimate troll by an industry of performers for whom resistance to Trump is almost too obvious. Why specifically call out Trump and his agenda when you can promote an alternative vision of America that still manages to be great, despite everything our president is doing to reverse its progress?