The Oscars: Trying to Do Right with an Apolitical Night

“The Hurt Locker,” as everyone knows by now, is the first Iraq war movie to win best picture, and perhaps a vindication of all of the filmmakers who leaped in to capture the American experience in Baghdad, only to see their work fall flat at the box office.

But like the movie itself, this year’s Academy Awards were largely apolitical.

Politics simmered, but they never really surfaced. Instead, what controversies there were were kept out of the Kodak, such as the spate of stories about veterans doubting the authenticity of “Hurt Locker.” The arguments about what the movie meant were kept to others. Tweeting after the ceremony, Michael Moore wrote: “Sorry. It was wrong 7 yrs. ago, and it’s still wrong tonite. God forgive us.”

This seemed to be the year where the winners, “Hurt Locker” included, kept their mouths shut.

There was no Sean Penn speech on civil rights, or quips about Sarah Palin or even references to President Obama. Even Mo’Nique’s reference to the politics surrounding “Precious” was very fleeting: You’d have to be a pretty close awards season observer to even know that there has been a flap about the movie’s portrayal of African Americans in the slums. The biggest immediate controversy had Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and New York Gov. David Patterson chiming in: Disney’s decision to pull ABC and its cable channels from Cablevision systems in New York, leaving many Oscar-less until an agreement was finally reached during the early part of the ceremony.

When “The Cove,” the most blatant piece of advocacy, won the documentary award, the filmmakers were so crunched for time that one held up a placard, instructing viewers where they could turn to to take more action to end the dolphin slaughter. But it was just a glimpse, as the cameras quickly flashed to Daniel Ellsberg, the subject of a documentary that didn’t win. It may have been the first time anyone has turned to Ellsberg to avoid getting a point of view.

That isn’t to say that the ceremony, plodding and predictable, yet classy by the end, didn’t have its significance. “The time has come,” said Barbra Streisand as she announced the first female winner for best director, Kathryn Bigelow. But Bigelow, who has been under the awards glow for months now, said nothing about it. Like her movie, the achievement speaks for itself.

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