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Black actors sweep early Oscars, as Viola Davis salutes Minnesota's August Wilson

The Academy Awards may have nominated more black performers than ever, but pointing out the racial divide -- both past and present -- was a running theme early in Sunday's ceremonies.

NASA pioneer Katherine Johnson, who was portrayed in "Hidden Figures," got a huge round of applause when she was wheeled out to help present the award for best documentary. Several of the stars in the audience wiped back tears as the 98-year-old physicist mustered up an emotional thanks for the ovation.

The winner in that category, "OJ: Made in America," came with a speech from co-director Ezra Edelman that referenced the number of racilly charged shootings that have taken place in the country since the film premiered.

He dedicated the win to the memories of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown, as well as victims of police violence and criminal injustice.

Then there was Viola Davis. Her win as best supporting actress for "Fences" was as close to a slam dunk as the Oscars get, but there was a bit of mystery as to what she would say at the podium. Somewhat surprisingly, she didn't mention race. Her powerful words stretched beyond the color of skin.

"I became an artist and thank God I did," she said, choking back tears. "It's the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. So here's to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people."

Jimmy Kimmel and Mahershala Ali set largely friendly tone at Oscars

Justin Timberlake's opening number at the Academy Awards was designed to get the audience up and dancing. But what really got the audience on its feet Sunday was a shout-out to Meryl Streep.

Host Jimmy Kimmel didn't ask the 20-time nominated actress to take a bow specifically for her tirade against President Trump at the Golden Globes last month, but the reference was more than implied and the audience responded with a wild ovation.

Kimmel referenced the anti-Trump sentiment in the room a couple more times.

"I want to say thank you to Donald Trump," he said during his monologue. "Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? It's gone."

He also noted that the TV audience included "225 countries that now hate us."

But Kimmel rarely performs with sharp edges. His job, like Timberlake's, was to get the room in a loose mood and he did so by going after familiar targets: Mel Gibson's past, actresses' weight, fake nemesis Matt Damon.

Perhaps Kimmel expected there will be enough political moments later on. Maybe, maybe not. Mahershala Ali's win as outstanding supporting actor for "Moonlight" was expected. So was a passionate plea for religious tolerance in the acceptance speech by the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar. Didn't happen. Maybe Ali got the politicking out of his system during the rest of the awards circuit. Maybe he figured the victory spoke for itself.

Whatever the case, one of the night's most highly anticipated moments turned into a tribute to his teachers, and to the wife who gave birth to their child four days ago.

Sweet, but not exactly a moment that will go viral -- or trigger angry Tweets from the commander in chief.

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