You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Can lame ducks still fly?

Election outcome could affect soapbox at Oscars

It’s still about politics.

The 2004 presidential contest may be history, but as Hollywood focuses on that other election, the Oscar race, some of the same issues and allegiances remain in the mix.

After a long period in which politically charged material was about as welcome as a pinkslip in most studio offices, the tide has turned.

Movies as varied as Jonathan Demme’s “The Manchurian Candidate,” an update of the 1962 thriller, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s satire “Team America,” which features puppet versions of North Korea’s Kim Jong II and U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, and a long list of politically charged and motivated documentaries, led by box office champ “Fahrenheit 9/11,” are abandoning nonpartisan positions to push more than just escapism. Why the climate change?

“It’s obviously got to do with the political climate of the country,” says writer and director Terry George, whose “Hotel Rwanda,” is about the African genocide of 1994. “Politics suddenly aren’t boring anymore.”

Sean Penn, who’s made independent investigative trips to Iraq, cites the wartime environment.

“It (politics) is such a tangible part of our current life. For film’s sake, I am pretty optimistic,” he told an audience after a recent Variety Screening Series unspooling of “The Assassination of Richard Nixon,” a film that rails against a climate of mendacity.

A film like Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” while not overtly political, will nonetheless have to contend with Academy voters’ feelings about its perceived anti-Semitic content and a marketing practice of direct sales to right-wing religious groups.

“It got politicized inadvertently due to the marketing approach and the reaction before it was actually released,” says Bob Berney, prexy of Newmarket, the film’s distrib. “There was a political element to the controversy that was separate from the actual story of the film.”

The controversy certainly didn’t hurt box office, but Berney, whose company also distributed John Sayles’ left-leaning election drama “Silver City” this season, says he can’t predict how it will affect the picture’s awards chances.

A best-picture Oscar bid by “Fahrenheit 9/11,” endorsed at Cannes with a Palm D’Or win, would seem to be inescapably linked to the political leanings of Academy voters, but Tom Ortenberg, prexy of co-distributor Lions Gate, disputes that President Bush’s re-election will affect its chances.

“Before Nov. 2, pundits were split on whether a Kerry or Bush win would help its chances, so I think that proves that the actual outcome (will have) no effect,” he says.

Harry Thomason, director of a doc about the right-wing assault on Bill Clinton, “The Hunting of the President,” voices skepticism that the Academy will ever acknowledge a docu, political or not, for its biggest prize.

“Because of the nature and makeup of the Academy, I think it will be tough no matter how well you made a documentary or how well it did,” he says, adding that he’s delighted he doesn’t have to compete with Michael Moore in the docu race. “Actors, directors and producers will probably stick with traditional pictures.”

Producer Lionel Chetwynd, who makes no secret of his right-leaning political persuasion, says he’s certain that his strongly pro-Bush polemic, “Celsius 41:11,” a docu produced as a right-wing response to “Fahrenheit 9/11,” will not be considered for Academy Awards. Most of the year’s politically inspired contenders will be quickly forgotten, he speculates, dismissing the trend as mostly market-driven.

“We are in a time of deeply inflamed passion, and that’s what draws people out,” he says. “They are hungry to see something that reinforces what they already think. It’s preaching to the choir. There’s very little crossover and very little influence.”

“I don’t know if there’s any future in that,” he adds. “I wouldn’t bet money on it.”

More Film

  • Boots Riley arrives at the 34th

    Boots Riley: Spike Lee Yelled at Me After 'BlacKkKlansman' Criticism, But We're Good Now

    “Sorry to Bother You” director and musician Boots Riley, who wrote a scathing criticism of Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” for its positive representation of law enforcement, said that he and the “Do the Right Thing” auteur are good now. But it took some time (and drama) to get there. Last year, Riley called Lee’s Oscar-nominated “BlacKkKlansman” [...]

  • Dr. Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali, right)

    Read Variety's 1957 Review of 'Green Book' Pianist Don Shirley

    “Green Book” viewers who are not totally versed in the ways of ’50s and ’60s jazz may come away from the heavily Oscar-nominated movie wondering just how well known and respected the film’s central musical figure, Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali), really was in his heyday. The answer: revered enough to have picked up [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Steven Spielberg Remembers 'Friend and Early Mentor' Stanley Donen

    As news of the death of prolific director Stanley Donen spread Saturday, the industry was quick to remember the helmer of so many classic musicals. Donen directed such hits as “Singin’ in the Rain,” co-directed with and starring Gene Kelly; “Funny Face” with Audrey Hepburn; and “Charade,” with Hepburn and Cary Grant. “Stanley Donen was [...]

  • Aubrey Plaza Spirit Awards

    How to Watch the 2019 Spirit Awards Online

    The Spirit Awards are taking over television Saturday from Santa Monica, Calif., but viewers don’t need a TV to tune in. Hosted by “Parks and Recreation” star Aubrey Plaza, this year’s Spirit Awards are set to air on IFC at 2 p.m. PT and again on Feb. 24 at 9 p.m. ET. However, indie lovers [...]

  • Mandatory Credit: Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

    Oscars, After Repeated Tumbles, Takes Center Stage in Hollywood

    At least the weather will be sunny for Sunday afternoon’s Oscars ceremony following one of the stormiest —  and strangest — awards seasons in memory. Expectations have been turned upside down in key categories amid a historic lack of consensus among guild and critics groups. The 91st Academy Awards will be the first in three [...]

  • Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his Night

    Box Office: 'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Speeding to Series-Best Debut With $58 Million

    Universal’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is far and away the box office champ for Academy Awards weekend with an estimated debut of $58 million from 4,259 North American locations. Three holdovers and an expansion will make up the other top four spots, with the sophomore frame of sci-fier “Alita: Battle Angel” [...]

  • Stanley Donen

    Stanley Donen, Director of Iconic Movie Musicals, Dies at 94

    Stanley Donen, the director of such stylish and exuberant films as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Funny Face” and “Two for the Road” and the last surviving helmer of note from Hollywood’s golden age, has died at 94. The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips tweeted that one of his sons had confirmed the news to him. Confirmed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content