Aactas 2017: Lion blitzes awards as Russell Crowe comments cut from broadcast

Weinstein Company-distributed film wins all 12 of its categories, and accepts awards with call for action – followed by a tone-deaf moment from Crowe

Oscar-nominated movie Lion dominated the 2017 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (Aacta) awards on Wednesday, winning best film and each of its competing categories.

The film’s producer, Angie Fielder, acknowledged the ongoing issue of sexual harassment and assault in the screen industry. “As a film that was partly financed by the Weinstein Company, it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge the incredible bravery of the women and men who have come forward to break the silence about sexual harassment and assault in our industry,” she said.

The film was distributed by the Weinstein Company, whose head, Harvey Weinstein, was sacked in September over dozens of sexual harassment allegations – leading to an avalanche of women and men speaking out about abuse of power in the film industry and beyond.

“Hopefully this marks a time of change and it’s really encouraging to see the industry taking a stand … Let’s keep talking about it. That’s how we make real change,” said Fielder.

At Wednesday’s main awards, the Weinstein reckoning and #metoo moment dominated conversations on the red carpet beforehand, and popped up during moments of the ceremony. A week earlier, veteran actor Geoffrey Rush stood down as president of the Aacta board after a complaint of “inappropriate behaviour” from two years ago surfaced, which he denies.

But in perhaps the most tone-deaf moment of the evening, and one which was cut for broadcast, Russell Crowe acknowledged the need for “sensitivity”in the industry – but tied it into a tongue-in-cheek anecdote about “sodomising Jacqui McKenzie on the set of [1992 film] Romper Stomper”.

“I didn’t actually intend to do that – I was trying to keep my bits away from her bits, and she’s been given one of those pieces of elastic that the girls get when you do those scenes, which protects them from all things, and my bits and pieces were in a little canvas sack with a drawstring,” he said, to muted laughs.

Russell Crowe presents the Aacta award for best Asian film.
Russell Crowe presents the Aacta award for best Asian film. Photograph: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images for AFI

“And it wasn’t (sic) actually my desire to keep the bits apart. It wasn’t until the opening night of the film that it was pointed out by none other than Jacqui McKenzie’s beautiful late mother that we were in fact, in her mind, engaged in sodomy. Anyway, that was just a story about sensitivity!”

Last week McKenzie added her name to the list of women who have come forward about assault and harrassment in the industry, posting to Facebook about the “grubby behaviour” she had encountered during her early career.

On the red carpet earlier on Wednesday, McKenzie told Guardian Australia: “It’s not just about sexual assault and harassment, it’s bullying and bad behaviour in the industry.”

“In all industries, no matter what job, gender or age, it occurs everywhere. I posted on Facebook last week about my experience … I’m really interested in effecting some change now.”

Emile Sherman, another of Lion’s producers, added in the media room that the discussion felt like “a massive cultural and social turning point”.

“It feels like a great moment for our industry and society as a whole to really grapple with these really important questions,” he said. “It’s great that our industry is in a sense leading the way in terms of the spotlight being shone on it.”

Rachel Griffiths and Gillian Armstrong present the Aacta award for best direction (film).
Rachel Griffiths and Gillian Armstrong present the Aacta award for best direction. Photograph: Jason McCawley/Getty Images for AFI

Lion, which tells the true story of Indian-Australian Saroo Brierley’s search for his childhood home, picked up five awards on the night including best film and best director for Garth Davis. Including seven wins for screenplay and production at the early event on Monday, it has now amassed a total of 12 Aacta awards.

Top of the Lake: China Girl won four Aacta awards including best television drama series. Nicole Kidman, who featured in both Lion and Top of the Lake, won twice for each performance, and her Lion co-star Sunny Pawar became the youngest winner of best lead actor in Aactas history.

Elisabeth Moss, who won for best lead actress in a television drama for Top of the Lake, also used her acceptance speech to speak about the importance of strong women and women’s stories, while her co-star Ewen Leslie won for best supporting actor, his first Aacta win after four previous nominations.

Top of the Lake won four awards, and ABC drama Seven Types of Ambiguity won twice, for Hugo Weaving’s lead performance and for best television screenplay. Celia Pacquola, meanwhile, won her third consecutive Aacta for her starring role in ABC’s Rosehaven.

Emma Booth won best lead actress for Hounds of Love, Simon Baker won the trailblazer award, and director Phillip Noyce won the Longford Lyle lifetime achievement award, for his work on Rabbit-Proof Fence, Dead Calm, The Quiet American and Patriot Games. Film-makers Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, who made Contact, First Footsteps and Tanna, were awarded the Byron Kennedy award.

The SBS drama Sunshine – an underdog sports movie about a team of Sudanese-Australian basketball players – beat out tough competition in Blue Murder: Killer Cop and Seven Types of Ambiguity to win the best telefeature or miniseries category.

The ceremony, held at the Star Casino in Sydney, was dominated by the video message from many of the more high-profile winners, from Australia and abroad, including Kidman, Weaving, Pawar, Moss and Dev Patel, who won best supporting actor for Lion.

• Click here for the full list of Aacta 2017 winners


Naaman Zhou and Steph Harmon

The GuardianTramp

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