By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel on Sunday led a star-studded celebration of Hollywood's best in honoring the campaign against sexual misconduct and the breakthrough of racial and ethnic diversity beginning to transform the movie business.
In his opening monologue, Kimmel skewered the class of powerful men who prayed on women with a sight gag focused on a larger-than-life Oscar statue on stage, noting the male sculpture's anatomically simplified lack of genitalia.
"He is literally a statue of limitations. And that’s the kind of man we need more of in this town," he said, drawing uproarious laughter from the Dolby Theatre's audience of film luminaries.
The joke helped break the looming tension from a torrent of sexual misconduct allegations that have roiled the film industry since legions of mostly female victims broke their silence in recent months to shed light on long-cloaked abuses of power and gender bias.
Kimmel also called out Harvey Weinstein, the onetime Hollywood titan whose fall from grace helped give rise to the #MeToo social media movement, which galvanized accusers of powerful men in media, politics and other walks of American life, and the Time's Up campaign for greater equality.
Weinstein, who has denied ever having nonconsensual sex with anyone, was expelled last year from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences after dozens of women accused him of a range of sexual misbehavior, including rape.
"There were a lot of great nominees, but Harvey deserved it the most," Kimmel said of the expulsion.
But the centerpiece for Oscar recognition for the issue came midway through the show, as three actresses who were among Weinstein's accusers - Annabella Sciorra, Ashley Judd and Salma Hayek - introduced a montage of film clips and celebrity interviews paying tribute to diversity of all kinds.
The segment saluted breakthroughs of women and people of color behind and in front of the camera, citing the critical and commercial success of such works as the blockbuster Marvel superhero film "Black Panther," featuring a predominantly African-American cast.
Kumail Nanjiani, the star and co-writer of popular comedy "The Big Sick," urged filmmakers in one pre-taped message to strive for greater inclusion not just because doing so was the right thing to do.
“Do it because you get rich,” he added.
In another emotional highlight saluting advances by women in the film industry, Frances McDormand, the night's best actress winner for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," capped her acceptance speech by asking all the women in the hall who had been Oscar-nominated to stand as they received a rousing ovation.
Unlike last year, when Kimmel in his debut appearance as Oscar host made then-newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump an Oscar punch line, the comedian made very little mention of White House politics during Sunday's nearly four-hour live telecast.
In an apparent nod to some more conservative TV viewers, the ceremony also honored men and women of the U.S. military with a medley of Hollywood war film highlights introduced by Native American actor Wes Studi, a Vietnam War veteran who has appeared in several Oscar-nominated films.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Henderson and Jonathan Oatis)