Toronto filmmaker Sarah Polley among Canadian triumphs at the Oscars

Toronto writer-director Sarah Polley won the award for best adapted screenplay at the 2023 Academy Awards on Sunday night, an evening with a distinctly Canadian flavour, including a lead-actor award for Brendan Fraser.

Brendan Fraser, Adrien Morot, Daniel Rohner among other Canadian Academy Award winners

A woman raises an award over her head.
Sarah Polley, winner of the best adapted screenplay award for Women Talking, poses in the media room during the 95th annual Academy Awards on Sunday evening in Hollywood, Calif. (Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)

An extraordinary win for Toronto writer-director Sarah Polley was one of many pivotal points during a victorious night for Team Canada at the Oscars, with additional key wins for Montreal prosthetics designer Adrien Morot, Toronto documentary filmmaker Daniel Roher and Canadian American actor Brendan Fraser.

Polley, who directed an adaptation of Manitoba author Miriam Toews's novel Women Talking, won for best adapted screenplay. 

It's been a rollercoaster awards season for Polley, with Women Talking also nominated for best picture.

She told CBC News last week that she was working on a project that documented the experience.

"First of all, I want to thank the academy for not being mortally offended by the words 'women' and 'talking' so close together like that — cheers," Polley joked at the beginning of her acceptance speech, referring to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Throughout awards season, she has pushed back on criticism and snarky comments directed at the film's title. 

She honoured Toews, who wrote the novel about a group of Mennonite women taking charge of their destiny after enduring years of sexual abuse by the men in their colony.

A smiling woman holds an Oscar statue.
Polley accepts the best adapted screenplay Oscar for Women Talking. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

"Miriam Toews wrote an essential novel about a radical act of democracy in which people who don't agree on every single issue manage to sit together in a room and carve out a way forward together, free of violence," Polley said onstage at the Oscars.

A man holds up an Oscar statue.
Brendan Fraser, who was born in the U.S. to Canadian parents, accepts the best actor Oscar for The Whale. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

"A young woman delivers the last line of our film to a new baby, and she says: 'Your story will be different from ours,'" Polley added. "It's a promise, a commitment and an anchor, and it's what I would like to say with all of my might to my three incredible kids Eve, Isla and Amy as they make their way through this complicated beautiful world."

Other Canadians making their Oscar mark

In one of the last awards presented at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday, Fraser took the Academy Award for best actor for The Whale. He portrays an English writer-lecturer who becomes a recluse and spirals into morbid obesity. 

Fraser was born in the U.S. to Canadian parents and lived for a time in Ottawa. A prominent star at the outset of his career in the 1990s, with films including Encino Man, George of the Jungle and The Mummy movies, the Oscar is Fraser's latest accolade during an emotional comeback year. 

Man wins award and speaks into microphone
Canadian documentary filmmaker Daniel Roher accepts the best documentary feature Oscar for Navalny. (Getty Images)

Earlier Sunday evening, Roher took home the first Canadian win, for his film Navalny, which won best documentary feature film. He gave a rousing speech, calling out the subject of his film — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny — who is currently detained in solitary confinement.

"I would like to dedicate this film to Navalny and to all political prisoners around the world," Roher said.

Morot won an Oscar for his work on The Whale, along with makeup artist Judy Chin and hairstylist Annemarie Bradley.

Morot and the makeup and hairstyling team transformed Canadian-American actor Fraser into a 600-pound man for his lead performance as Charlie.

Three makeup artist win awards
Judy Chin, Adrien Morot and Annemarie Bradley, left to right, are Oscar winners for best makeup and hairstyling, for Darren Aronofsky's The Whale. (Getty Images)


Jenna Benchetrit is a web journalist for CBC News. Based in Toronto and born in Montreal, she holds a master's degree in journalism from Ryerson University. Reach her at jenna.benchetrit@cbc.ca or on Twitter @jennabenchetrit.

With files from Eli Glasner


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