There’s a formal attire policy that everybody needs to adhere to at the Oscars, and I made the mistake of not paying attention to this as much as I should have. However, the series of events that unfolded after I was kicked out over my outfit was beyond my imagination.
This is not a story about how messy things can get behind the scenes at the Oscars. It’s about how I came out of it a new person. And it’s all thanks to Danai Maraire, who some in Hollywood may know as a producer from Black Entertainment Television (BET).
To me, she was my guardian angel and fairy godmother.
I arrived at the security checkpoint outside Hollywood and Highland Centre feeling fabulous and optimistic in my knee-length shimmery dress, killer heels and formal blazer, ready to cover the Oscars.
I went to the red carpet outside Dolby Theatre to take shots for my coverage and then up to the press room at Loews Hotel.
While waiting for the second security checks, a staff member scanned my outfit and didn’t seem to have a problem with what I was wearing then. But things took a crazy turn after I entered the press room.
I was setting up my workstation when a random stranger came up to me from behind to comment on my outfit.
“I like your dress, I think it looks cute on you,” she said, bending down to my ear and walking away too quickly to let me catch a glimpse of her face.
That sounded like a nice thing to say, but what happened later on made me question whether that remark was a praise or a heads-up.
The press room was slowly filling up when three staff asked me to stand up so they could look at my dress, before telling me to leave the property. My face flushed from the public humiliation.
“We need to enforce our formal attire policy. Your dress is not long enough because it needs to be floor-length or fall after the knee. So we’ll need to ask you to leave,” said one of them, who appeared to be the director of communications for the Academy Awards.
I’d had a long flight to Los Angeles and I was nursing jet lag. I had already paid US$350 for the AT&T Internet setup and I was wracking my brain trying to get my laptop connected. Up to that point, I was pretty confident that fate wasn’t going to give me any further trouble. But it did.
“I flew 16 hours for this event. I arrived last night from Singapore and I’m scheduled to leave the country tomorrow afternoon. I’m not going to be on the red carpet, and nobody’s going to see me from all the way back here in this room, and this is my first and last time covering the Oscars,” I said, my voice starting to quiver. “Isn’t there any way that you can make an exception for this?”
“We’ve already asked four people to leave because of their outfits and if we make an exception for you, we’re going to have to make more exceptions for other people,” she replied in a brutally straight-forward tone.
I was devastated. I didn’t see anybody else being ganged up on and asked to leave besides me, and I was one of the earliest there. The press room was still rather empty when I arrived, three hours before the awards show was scheduled to start at 5pm (PCT).
But there was no way out for this deer caught in headlights, who gave in to the order without putting up a fight.
I packed my things and left my table as they stood there staring at this noob of an Asian reporter throwing the Oscars opportunity out the window.
That was when Danai appeared out of nowhere.
The adventure begins
In all the five years of working in this line, I’ve never met someone who would help another reporter out, let alone go to great lengths to do so.
There I was, already surrendering to my fate, and this lady, whom I’ve never seen in my entire life, wasn’t going to back down from this obstacle.
I still had my press pass with me so I could go back if I had a new dress. But with about two hours to showtime, how was that even possible?
Well, it was, for Danai at least.
“As soon as I heard that they had asked you to leave, and I saw your face falling, I just had to help,” she said. “Man, we got to get this girl a dress!”
Her offer made my heart sink, especially when she had her own problems to deal with, too.
According to Danai, she was not given a spot on the table in the press room because she hadn’t purchased the AT&T Internet setup, even after successfully applying for accreditation.
This was absurd knowing that the other two reporters who had flown in from Malaysia and Indonesia respectively, were given spots even without purchasing the Internet service.
But instead of trying to straighten that out, she had embarked on a mission to find me a dress. Minutes later, we were marching out of the press room with Danai picking up snacks from the media buffet along the way.
“Do you have any money for a dress?” she asked.
“I have a credit card,” I said, keeping my fingers crossed that it didn’t get declined because I only had US$67 in cash with me.
We hurried down to the ground floor, scurried around the red carpet area and out through another security checkpoint, before walking all the way out to a stop for a shuttle bus.
All the roads around the Oscars’ premises were blocked and it was our only way out to get to Danai’s car.
“Boy, are you my assignment for today. I wasn’t even in the mood to cover the Oscars and then you showed up and now I know why I’m here,” she said, laughing. “You’ll never know who you’re going to meet or what you’re going to do when you wake up.”
It was like a scene in the movies: We were in Hollywood, the Oscars was happening behind us, and we were on a mini-adventure in downtown Los Angeles.
The time was nearly three o’clock and we had yet to find a mall.
“Dear Lord, we hope you can help us find a dress so Nurul can go to the Oscars. A nice dress that won’t make her get kicked out again. We need to be back by 4 o’clock so she can still catch the big stars on the red carpet before the show starts at 5pm,” prayed Danai, filled with optimism.
Meanwhile, I was just worried that all of her efforts would go to waste because we couldn’t find a dress or use my credit card.
“Target!” Danai shouted while looking at the giant red and white symbol of the department store. Sure, you can find anything there, but an Oscars-worthy dress? I wasn’t so sure.
But Danai was. She sped into the basement carpark and found a space closest to the lift that took shoppers straight into Target.
“I’m going to check with the staff and you can start looking,” she instructed.
There was nothing encouraging about what I was seeing. The women’s section was stocked with clothes for a mothers’ or granny’s day out: Stretchable tops, leggings, florals and cotton.
“Did you find anything?” said Danai, walking towards me.
“They’re all casual clothes,” I said, feeling down.
But Danai was not having it. She began browsing through the racks before pulling out a long black chiffon dress in size ’S’. It was the only one left.
I dashed into the fitting room and tried it on before walking out, still wearing it.
“Excuse me ma’am, but you can’t walk out in those clothes,” a staff stopped me. But Danai once again came to the rescue.
“We’re on our way to the Oscars and she ain’t got time to change,” she said, explaining my embarrassing situation to the staff, who almost immediately empathised and let us go.
It was a miraculous moment, and the magic didn’t end there.
There was a long line of customers at the cashiers and it would have taken at least 30 mins to queue. But Danai went to tell the customers that we were having an “emergency” and needed to head back to the Oscars as fast as possible.
As soon as the customers heard her, each of them let me skip the queue all the way to the front. The cashier scanned the tag from my dress and cut it off for me after I handed US$40 to him.
All throughout, Danai kept explaining my situation to the customers in line.
“Oh yeah, it’s starting at 5pm right?” remarked the customer behind me. “Have fun at the Oscars!”
I looked back and thanked everybody in line, at the same time reminding myself to breathe and not to hyperventilate from the surreal moment.
The time was 3.30pm and Danai was driving us back to the shuttle bus. I still couldn’t believe what had just happened.
“Thank you so much Danai, I don’t know what I would do without you,” I said.
“Don’t thank me, thank God. It’s all God’s doing.”
Just like a fairy godmother, Danai was able to get me a new dress, and just like a guardian angel, she was like a “green light” to all the barriers we went through in the past hour.
She persuaded the shuttle bus driver to start moving, the Target staff to let me walk out in the dress before paying, and the customers in line to let me cut the queue. Just how do you do all that?
All of Danai’s prayers were answered that day, and they weren’t even for her. By 3.55pm, we were walking back to the Dolby Theatre. Five minutes later, we were back at the press room as if the past hour had not happened.
I returned to the Oscars’ press room wearing a new dress and feeling like a different person.
Walking back to my seat, I eyed the staff with a sense of triumph and smiled at the reporters around me with a sense of pride for having to overcome the biggest challenge for the day.
While the awards ceremony was going on, I came across two ladies who had also worn knee-length outfits at the buffet table, one of whom Danai took a photo of.
It made me angry, obviously. I was kicked out while these two ladies were able to walk around freely. But on the bright side, they won’t get to leave with a story as good as this.
It might even be worth telling award-winning filmmaker Jordan Peele about it, since he joked during the press interviews about setting a “Get Out” sequel at an awards ceremony, just like the Oscars.
If that ever happens, he might want to name it “Kicked Out”.
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