Was Melissa McCarthy & Brian Tyree Henry’s Oscar-costuming bit offensive?

91st Annual Academy Awards - Telecast

The 2019 Hostless Oscars didn’t have a lot of “comedy bits.” There were a few pieces of funny banter, but mostly presenters just kept it pretty brief. The one exception was Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry presenting Best Costume Design. They did a bit! They dressed up in costumes which represented the nominees, and Melissa’s bunny-covered, Favourite-referencing ensemble (and bunny puppet) was one of the funniest moments of the night, in my opinion. Here’s that moment:

But was it offensive? To me, no, it wasn’t offensive. They weren’t making fun of the costume designers. They weren’t being mean. They were doing a hodge-podge homage to the nominees’ work. Their costumes were made by Katja Cahill, the costume designer for the Oscars, who gave some interviews about how Melissa and Brian’s ensembles came together. But at least one Oscar-nominated costume designer wasn’t here for any of it.

Twitter thought the ensembles were delicious, but Oscar-nominated costume designer Arianne Phillips said they made her sick. Phillips, singled out by the Academy for her work in 2012 on Madonna’s W.E. and in 2006 for James Mangold’s Walk the Line, took to Facebook Monday night to slam the looks as “tasteless and insulting” to her industry.

“I like to think I have a sense of humor,” posted Phillips, who worked on Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. “I have heard from more than a couple friends and family members who also thought this was insulting and in bad taste… WHAT say you fellow Costume Designer, costumer peeps and facebookers? AND…Sandy Powell & Ruth Carter whose work was made a mockery and the makeup design from Black Panther as well.”

“As Costume Designers we struggle with people in our own industry UNDERSTANDING our job, on this one night where the work is supposed to be elevated (look at the international ratings) this is perhaps the most egregious misrepresentation not only of taste (which is subjective) but of value to the film making process. We are not just ‘shoppers,’ as our job is so often misunderstood,” Phillips continued. “We constantly have to explain our job this kind of mockery only underscores frustration. Feels like major steps backwards. SHAME on the Academy for allowing this to be broadcast.”

[From The Hollywood Reporter]

First of all, at what point did anyone say anything about “costume design is just buying clothes”? No one said anything like that. It took a lot of creativity from Cahill to put together Melissa and Brian’s costumes and do a proper homage to five films in only two costumes. I feel like Arianne Phillips is maybe overreacting? Or maybe she’s not explaining her position properly, because I have no f–king clue where her hissy fit has come from. Also: “Phillips, who worked on Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Well, then she would know something about “insulting” and being “in bad taste.” She would know because she’s costuming Margot Robbie to play Sharon Tate’s bloody murder scene.

91st Annual Academy Awards - Telecast

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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39 Responses to “Was Melissa McCarthy & Brian Tyree Henry’s Oscar-costuming bit offensive?”

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  1. Case says:

    Not at all? If anything it was poking fun at the comic aspects of this year’s roles.

    You’d have to be pretty dumb to confuse costume design with shopping. I’ve never heard anyone say that before, ever. Everyone knows that’s a very creative field, surely?

    • Sigh... says:

      Kiiiiind of a self-drag. If anything, I readily recognized each film nominated individually without even seeing some of the films/costumes themselves (as should their fellow voters if they *ACTUALLY WATCHED* the nominated works), so it’s clearly NOT just “shopping” to the public. Their lack of cohesiveness/sameness/trend emphasized that.

      But even PRO PERSONAL STYLISTS *should* do more than be “shoppers.”

  2. Original Jenns says:

    Your last two sentences. *boom* mic drop I think it was a fun bit that did not insult costume design. It WAS costume design. I feel like this is an argument designed to show Ms. Phillips is deep and thoughtful and real. A straw man or whatever.

  3. Tiffany says:

    I did not. But again, I am not in this profession and someone who is says it was a problem. I do not want to downplay Adrienne’s concerns with it.

  4. Valiantly Varnished says:

    Oh whatever. This is one of the categories that the Academy wasn’t even going to show live anymore. They found a way to make it entertaining and funny for the viewers. She needs to get over herself. And yes frankly I find her working on Tarantino’s “ode to toxic masculinity by way of Manson” film pretty gross and tacky.
    Edit: I’d also like to add that the actors and the films get made fun of too throughout the night. You don’t hear them complaining about how their craft isn’t being taken seriously. It’s called having a sense of humor about oneself. I am incredibly suspicious of people who have no sense of humor about themselves.

    • Minime says:

      I would be careful about calling something”insulting” and “in bad taste” if that movie was in my CV.

    • Tiffany says:

      And I would like to add that Brian and Melissa are not stupid in regards to openly insulting people or their crafts. If the idea and then rehearsal was brought to them and they had a problem with it, they would have spoken up about it.

  5. Nev says:

    Oh geez.

  6. Lorelei says:

    Is there absolutely NO limit to the things that people can manage to get outraged over?!

    • Usedtobe says:

      Agree 100%
      Good God!!

      • SM says:

        In addition, no Arianne Phillips, you don’t have a sense of humor. A while back Steve Carrell and Will Farrell came out in horrible makeup to present the best make up award, but that probably was not insulting to Phillips because it wasn’t about costumes and she did not have a movie to promote…

  7. Michelle says:

    I thought it was a great highlight of the oscars. It was just a little humorous moment, not a dig at costume designers. I loved the bunnies all over the dress & puppet. You can’t get more distasteful than working with Tarantino, then add an infamous slaughter of innocent people to the mix. Enough said!

  8. JaneEyreApparent says:

    Costume Design is one of the categories I actually pay attention to and I was happy they did such memorable skit. I think she was being kind of Extra about it.

  9. BlueSky says:

    Um what the f@ckery??? I’m not in the industry so I don’t know but I just thought it was a funny bit. I didn’t walk away thinking it diminished their work. I have a lot of respect for costume designers and what they do. I’m thinking maybe people were asking her about the bit and she got annoyed??? Maybe she was responding to people thinking they are shoppers???

  10. Heat says:

    This is ridiculous! That lady needs her funny bone checked. It was a hilarious bit, and I just realized Melissa is wearing cowboy boots to go with her Buster Scruggs hat. 😂

  11. jay says:

    She sounds…triggered? Like she has issues with how people perceive her work and expected some kind of self congratulatory gravitas for her big Oscahhhhh moment, and they decided to lighten up the mood instead. I didn’t detect any hit job on costume design. ffs.

  12. Grant says:

    I think her response would have been more helpful if she actually explained WHY she found it offensive, because I’m still not following. Is it because Melissa McCarthy (a COMEDIAN) came out dressed in a wacky outfit and that somehow minimized Ms. Phillips’ trade? Did she somehow forget when Whoopi Goldberg hosted and came out dressed like Judi Dench’s version of the Queen in Shakespeare In Love? Also, totally agree that this lady lost any high road she may have had by working on the new Tarantino torture porn movie.

  13. smcollins says:

    Seriously? I thought their bit was one of the highlights of the evening. Sounds like someone has their head a little too far up their own ass. 🙄

  14. Kendra says:

    I am interesting in costume design so when I was the clip I was a tad annoyed at first with all the bunnies expecially but that leasted about a second. It was funny and memorable. I guess if she had a problem and better idea what should have been done maybe she should have offered to do the costume design skit for next year rather than complaining.

  15. Svea says:

    The rabbits were hilarious and no insult to costume because it was a weird trope in the movie to have all those rabbits hopping around. Didn’t get what they were referring to with what else they wore. I get the sensitivity because of how the art of costumes can be overlooked. Observing the magnifent craftmanship of costumes is one of my favorite things about movies and television, particularly non modern and sci fy/fantasy pieces where hours and hours of work go into crafting these artworks. Game of Thrones, Mrs Maisel come to mind. And the Black Panther win was well deserved. Remember I went to an exhibit on the original Star Trek. All the props from the show were so cheesy and practically styrofoam (as can be see in the episodes), but someone put a lot of excellence and care into those costumes, probably without much budget too.

    • Kebbie says:

      Cowboy hat and boots on Melissa were Buster Scruggs, Melissa’s hair and collar were Mary Queen of Scots.

      Brian’s cape, hat, bow tie, and gloves were Mary Poppins, his dress was Emma Stone in The Favourite, his eye makeup was Black Panther, and his hair was Killmonger’s from Black Panther.

      I’m not sure about his shoes or the pearls. I guess The Favourite for the pearls, though I don’t think any of them wore that many strands in the movie.

      • ravynrobyn says:

        Thanks @ Kebbie! Didn’t see many movies this year, so didn’t get the references. Costumes were amazing and very clever.

  16. Deedee says:

    What they’re wearing is a costume montage, like the comic song and dance and acting montages the Oscar hosts usually do of the nominated films. It’s done well, because you can recognize the elements of the films immediately. There’s homage to all of them.

  17. Kells-bells says:

    She. Is. Wrong.
    But we’re all leaving comments and talking about her so it looks like she got exactly what she wanted.

  18. Kebbie says:

    This is how they introduce categories. Were the sound people upset about McAvoy and Danai Gurira “mocking” them?

    Supporting actresses upset Tina talked about holding up and supporting Amy’s boobs?

    This is such a dumb thing to get upset about. If anyone had a right to be offended by presenters, I’d say it was Awkwafina and John Mulaney joking that they got to present “the big ones” before they handed out animated short or whatever, but even so it’s just a goof! Obviously the movie stars are the big draw at these shows and they have to keep the show interesting to viewers to keep the thing on TV.

  19. paranormalgirl says:

    She may like to THINK she has a sense of humor, but she clearly doesn’t. I take jokes about my profession as just that, jokes. Even the meaner spirited ones.

  20. laura-j says:

    I’m an old, but I don’t remember before the internet everyone being constantly and consistently outraged over the smallest things. Like was everyone just privately seething all the time about everything and just didn’t have a platform? The internet exhausts me sometimes.

  21. RuddyZooKeeper says:

    I don’t think she listened to what they said at all. They were talking about the genius and artistry of costume design and its huge impact on a film even in its amazing subtlety. The key word there is subtlety. Those insane outfits they were wearing were obviously not subtle. I thought the point they were making was that these are the kind of looks you’d end up with when you don’t have an amazing costume designer. ???

  22. Meghan Healey says:

    I am a professional costume designer, and I thought it was hilarious. Yes, we are under appreciated in the industry, but this skit was a form of appreciation and no one was maligning the designer’s work. Arianne is being a pill. Probably because she wasn’t nominated.

  23. supersoft says:

    She sounds jealous and bitter tbh. Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry looked fab and pulled it off just perfectly. And both showed what Costume design is actually capable to do for actors.

  24. GeeWhiz says:

    To me, those costumes were meant to highlight the training and technical skill of actual costume designers— by showing in a comical way what happens when non-professionals attempt it.

    To be able to capture a mood, a theme, a character, a time and place in a way that forwards the film but isn’t over the top? That takes great skill. Doing a flamboyant tongue-in-cheek sartorial version only reinforced that it takes actual talent to achieve that mastery while not distracting from plot and such.

    And, ironically, doing it so over the top and pulling it off while paying homage to the nominated films became a feat of skill of its own – so props to the costume designer for the bit.

  25. ASH says:

    She’s just jealous because she wasn’t ask to design these. Nobody cares about the costume design category. If anything, it made it interesting for once.

  26. b says:

    It’s Hollywood for f_ck sake,it’s a self congratulatory evening and everything about Hollywood is offensive.This crazy ho is obviously pissed off about some other issue going on and sounds pathetic for bitching about a very funny bit . She’s probably offended when a barista doesn’t put enough foam on her mocha caramel coconut double espresso hocachoca mint double chocolate half skim half decaf latte with a half squirt of mocha 3/4 shot of caramel and a half packet a stevia.

  27. dmw says:

    I worked with Arianne years ago at an edgy fashion PR firm in NY named KRT . she was a stylist at the time and I was doing production design for designers they represented. she was difficult, insecure and devoid of any sense of humor then and clearly, nothing has changed. All eyes would roll when she threw shade then, as my eyes rolled today when I read her “ME, ME, ME !” post , today. Anyway the bit was fab and that hand puppet had me forget Trump is president for a few seconds… THANK YOU .

  28. Poots McBoots says:

    I have always been excited to see Ms. Phillips’s name attached to projects because I am still an unabashed stan for Hedwig and that was the first time I recognized her as a member of the film industry. I loved the movie, its production values, the art direction, makeup, wigs, and costumes–ALL of it. So I am very disappointed to see how grumpy and rigid she seemed in that tweet. Farts are funny and gross. But they aren’t THAT awesome to sniff. Get over yourself. Furthermore, I cosign everyone else noting the rich, nutty aroma of irony surrounding a woman who is working on a Tarantino project making such remarks.