Oscars get political as stars lambast Trump

Jimmy Kimmel: “Being watched around the world in more than 225 countries that now hate us”. © PA

Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel trashed Donald Trump throughout the night, even provoking him from the stage with two tweets. Will his words make a difference?

It started at the Golden Globes in January, when Meryl Streep warned that “disrespect invites disrespect”. Although she did not mention Donald Trump by name, he reacted angrily on Twitter.

It did not stop there. The day after his inauguration, Natalie Portman thanked the new president for inspiring “the revolution” at a women’s march in LA.

And so the big surprise last night was that Moonlight, a film about a young black man growing up in Miami, beat La La Land to the top award, rather than that the politics, set by host Jimmy Kimmel, was fiercely anti-Trump.

“I want to say thank you to President Trump… remember last year when it seemed the Oscars were racist?” Kimmel told the star-studded audience. “That’s gone, thanks to him.”

He then took to the president’s favourite medium — Twitter — to write: “Hey @realDonaldTrump u up?” and “@realDonaldTrump #Merylsayshi.”

Hollywood’s opposition to Trump over the last two months made their defiance feel inevitable. And yet, until recently, politics at the event was often frowned upon.

In 2003, the documentary maker Michael Moore was heavily booed for his speech opposing President George Bush and the Iraq war. In 1993, three actors were threatened with lifetime bans after making speeches about HIV and human rights issues in China. In 1973, Sacheen Littlefeather received both boos and applause when she appeared on stage to refuse Marlon Brando’s Best Actor award, protesting against Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans. She later said the move effectively ended her own acting career.

But this year was different, perhaps this was because Trump’s immigration order affected the awards directly. The Iranian director Asghar Farhadi boycotted the event, despite the order’s suspension by the courts. When it was first announced, the Academy itself released a statement calling the ban “extremely troubling”.

Many stars echoed that sentiment last night. But will they change anyone’s minds?

Star power

Not one bit, say Hollywood’s critics. The journalist Meghan McCain wrote that Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech was exactly “why Trump won” in the first place. America is bitterly divided, but it is not the job of wealthy celebrities to fix things; their angry speeches berating Trump and alienating his supporters will only make the divisions worse.

Not always, counter others. Truly gifted actors can do something that most politicians cannot: turn political issues into human stories. Many of this year’s best picture nominations did just that. And the stars who brought that same subtlety to their speeches may have been able to touch people. That is what art is for — and America needs it now more than ever.

You Decide

  1. Will any of last night’s speeches make a difference?
  2. “Show, don’t tell” is the best way to change someone’s mind. Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In groups, write a short guide to making the perfect speech at the Oscars. Which five pieces of advice would you give to nervous celebrities? Share your choices with the class.
  2. You have won an Oscar — and you have two minutes to make a speech that will be heard by millions of people. What would you say?

Some People Say...

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread.”

Toni Morrison

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should I care what celebrities have to say?
Last year the Oscars were watched by around 34 million people in the USA. That gives the stars a huge platform to speak from. And, as this story proves, their words can be remembered for decades to come. As the overwhelming majority of Hollywood actors oppose President Trump, it is worth considering how much of an impact they might have.
Have celebrities ever changed things in the past?
People in the public eye have certainly helped raise awareness of issues, but it is debatable how much influence celebrities really have over ordinary people today. Their critics would point out that some of the biggest celebrities in the world came out in support of Hillary Clinton. Then again — would Donald Trump be president if he was not a celebrity first?

Word Watch

Oscars
Also known as the Academy Awards. These are chosen by members of the film industry, known as “the Academy”.
Michael Moore
The documentary maker had won for Bowling for Columbine. He denounced a “fictitious president” and a war which he said had “fictitious reasons”.
Three actors
Richard Gere used his time presenting an award to discuss Tibet and China. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins jointly discussed HIV-positive Haitian refugees who were being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Sacheen Littlefeather
The actress and activist had been sent by Brando with a long speech on his behalf, but did not have time to read the whole thing.
Immigration order
A temporary ban on citizens from seven Muslim countries from entering the USA.
Asghar Farhadi
The director is a previous Oscar winner and this year his film The Salesman was nominated for Best Foreign Language film. He sent two Iranian-Americans in his place.
Meghan McCain
Daughter of Republican senator and former presidential candidate John McCain.
Best picture
For example, Hidden Figures, Fences and Moonlight all discussed racism in the USA.

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