“I had to fulfill my duty”: a timeline of contentious politics at the Academy Awards.

“I had to fulfill my duty”: a timeline of contentious politics at the Academy Awards.

There were only a few unexpected moments at this year’s Oscars. Oppenheimer’s captivating storytelling and Ryan Gosling’s charming looks were no surprise to voters and viewers. However, the event played it safe until British writer-director Jonathan Glazer brought some sharpness to the stage.

The director accepted an award for his impactful World War II film, The Zone of Interest, which takes place near Auschwitz. Rather than following the apolitical theme of the evening, he used the opportunity to make a statement.

Glazer mentioned that our choices have influenced our present, and it was not to dwell on the past but to focus on the present. The movie depicts the consequences of dehumanization, which has affected our past and present. At this moment, we stand as men who reject the idea of our Jewish identity and the Holocaust being controlled by an occupation that has caused a lot of conflict for innocent people. This includes the victims of October 7 in Israel and the ongoing attack in Gaza. Glazer asked, how can we resist the effects of dehumanization?

Glazer received initial praise for his speech, but it was soon distorted, misinterpreted, and mishandled online. Some sources and individuals portrayed his words as a complete rejection of his Jewish identity. Meghan McCain, for example, tweeted, “In Hollywood, we have people clapping for a man who is supposedly denying his Jewishness.” Abraham Foxman, a lawyer and the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, expressed shock at Glazer’s apparent disregard for the memory of over one million Jews who were killed. MSNBC host Chris Hayes acknowledged that the wording of Glazer’s speech was awkward, but noted that many people had misunderstood it. Furthermore, there was confusion surrounding the absence of the speech on the official Oscars YouTube channel. However, it was clarified that the broadcaster ABC currently holds the rights to the speech for the next 30 days, after which it will be available on the channel.

However, even those who comprehended the quote in its entirety expressed their discontent promptly. The Combat Antisemitism Movement released a statement denouncing Glazer for utilizing the achievement as a platform for attacking Israel with an “As a Jew” statement. Additionally, David Schaecter, president of the Holocaust Survivors, characterized the speech as both factually incorrect and morally unjustifiable.

During an interview with the Guardian about the launch of The Zone of Interest, Glazer was questioned about its disturbing parallels to current events in Gaza. He expressed his disgust at the fact that the film remains relevant and will continue to be so until we break out of the never-ending cycle of violence that we, as humans, perpetuate. According to him, this change is unlikely to occur during our lifetime.

The conversation will likely continue, although it will certainly be one-sided due to Glazer’s reluctance to be in the spotlight. This serves as a reminder of the potential backlash that can come with making a political Oscars speech. Glazer received praise for being the only winner to acknowledge a conflict that has resulted in over 31,000 deaths among Palestinians and Israelis (Boots Riley expressed support, the Guardian’s Mehdi Hasan criticized the distortion of Glazer’s words as “shameful,” and a Haaretz editorial stated “The uncomfortable truth is that Glazer was right”). However, in a time when many award recipients refrain from making political statements, Glazer’s words have elicited a stronger reaction.

Although it has experienced a significant decline in viewership compared to its peak, the Oscars continues to be the most popular awards ceremony globally. This year, it drew in a viewership of over 19 million in the United States alone. It has long been regarded as an influential platform with tremendous responsibility. While many acceptance speeches follow a predictable format of thanking family, God, and agents, some have taken the opportunity to address pressing issues on a worldwide stage, often facing backlash as a result.

In 2003, Michael Moore received the best documentary Oscar for his film Bowling for Columbine, which advocated for stricter gun control. When he went on stage to accept the award, Moore used the opportunity to make a larger plea. The award ceremony occurred four days after the US invasion of Iraq, with a less extravagant atmosphere and frequent updates on the dystopian news of the time. This was also a period when the majority of Americans stood behind George Bush’s decision. Despite this, Moore, along with the protesters outside, expressed outrage from the very beginning, before many others joined in.

During the commercial break before the winner was revealed, he urged his fellow nominees to accompany him in making an anti-war statement. The audience, which included famous personalities like Martin Scorsese, Cameron Diaz, and Julianne Moore, gave a standing ovation before the group proceeded to the stage. Moore acknowledged their presence and stated, “They are standing with me because we appreciate nonfiction. We live in a world of made-up circumstances, where even our elections lead to the selection of a fabricated president.”

The booing began at that moment. Moore continued to criticize President Bush for leading the country into a war for false reasons, but the music quickly interrupted him (Oscar producer Gilbert Cates deemed Moore’s tactics “inappropriate”) and the initial applause turned sour by the time he left the stage. Years later, Moore shared the immense backlash he faced. He was largely ignored for the rest of the evening, with his arrival at the Governors Ball compared to the parting of the Red Sea. The situation was even worse when he returned home to Michigan, with signs posted near his house and a 4-foot wall of horse manure blocking his driveway, causing him to hire security. As conservative sources vilified him, Moore revealed that he was physically assaulted six times over the following two years.

In 2017, he wrote, “I will be remembered as the person who spoke the truth.” The events of that night showed people in other countries that not all Americans were in favor of George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq.

Twenty-five years prior to that evening, Vanessa Redgrave, who won the award for best supporting actress, had sparked controversy even before she spoke. While working on the film Julia, which is set during World War II, she had gotten to know some Palestinian students and had provided her voice for a documentary called The Palestinian, of which she was also a producer. This was seen as being anti-Israeli by some, including the Anti-Defamation League. Outside of the ceremony, members of the Jewish Defense League burned effigies of her.

After expressing her gratitude, Redgrave then criticized a small group of Zionist individuals for their actions, stating that it was an offense to the Jewish community and their history of fighting against fascism and oppression. This caused some shock and disapproval, and later on, writer Paddy Chayefsky publicly criticized her language (and refused to speak with her). However, similar to Glazer, Redgrave’s speech was misunderstood, as she clarified that she was specifically referring to the Jewish Defense League rather than the entire Jewish population.

In a 2016 interview with the Guardian, she addressed accusations of antisemitism by dismissing them as “absurd.” She also stated that everyone has the right to their own thoughts about others, but since she personally has never held such views, she believes time will prove the accusations as false.

She acknowledged that it had a brief impact on her professional life, but standing up against injustice was more important. Redgrave went on to be nominated for two more Academy Awards. In 2018, she stated, “I wasn’t aware that speaking out against anti-Semitism and fascism was seen as controversial. I am realizing now that it is.” She also stated, “I felt compelled to do my part.”

Half a decade prior, in arguably the most famous instance of a rapid audience shift, an actor named Sacheen Littlefeather stepped onto the stage to either accept or refuse the best actor Oscar in place of Marlon Brando. Brando had earned the award for his performance in The Godfather, but Littlefeather delivered a prepared speech that sparked immediate outrage. She stated that Brando could not accept the award due to the mistreatment of Native Americans in the film industry and on television, as well as the recent violent takeover of Wounded Knee.

During her speech, there were mixed reactions in the audience, including both applause and boos. Allegedly, John Wayne was present and had to be restrained by six security guards from going on stage. Later, Clint Eastwood made a comment while presenting the best picture Oscar about cowboys in John Ford westerns. Some attendees also made offensive gestures and noises towards the speaker. In a 2021 interview with the Guardian, she described her approach to the speech as that of a “warrior woman,” speaking from the heart with grace, beauty, courage, and humility. However, her career faced obstacles following the speech, with her calling herself a “hotbed for controversy.” There were claims that J Edgar Hoover warned industry members not to hire her, resulting in her being virtually blacklisted. On a positive note, her speech did bring global attention to the events at Wounded Knee as it was the first time the awards were telecasted internationally, reaching an audience of 85 million people.

Some people responded to Glazer’s speech about his film, which had been praised by Steven Spielberg as the most accurate portrayal of the Holocaust since Schindler’s List. This happened during a difficult and chaotic time for the film industry. Since October, celebrities have been facing consequences such as getting fired from movies and losing their agents for speaking out against the Israeli government. Glazer’s speech, which was thoughtful and restrained as he addressed the impact on both sides, has become the latest escalation in a long-standing culture war. This is unfortunately not surprising, as the awards season has been lacking in strong political statements. As a filmmaker who does not aim for mainstream appeal or require a large budget, Glazer is unlikely to suffer professionally. However, this backlash and those that came before may serve as a warning to others in the future.

Source: theguardian.com