Michelle Obama was the first First Lady to present an Oscar. Daniel Day-Lewis was the first actor to win an Academy Award for playing a president. And this was the first awards season where so many of the contenders seemed to be competing for the endorsement of major political figures, best picture winner “Argo” landing the tacit approval of former president Jimmy Carter.
Nevertheless, the Oscarcast, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, was largely free of the brazenly partisan acceptance speech, snarky political jabs and polarizing moments. Instead, you got a few jokes about Jews, Nazis and nuns, interspersed with a Tony award-like night of tributes to movie musicals and standards of old. Not even the documentary category could elicit a politically charged winner, as Academy voters bypassed “The Invisible War” and “How to Survive a Plague,” two impactful entries, for “Searching for Sugarman.”
Day-Lewis largely bypassed much speechifying about Abraham Lincoln and instead devoted part of his remarks to a joke about Meryl Streep. The most likely moment of controversy would have been had Mark Boal won for the “Zero Dark Thirty” screenplay, as he would have been expected to say something about the hazing his project has taken on Capitol Hill, but Quentin Tarantino won that award. Outside, there were protesters, but it was over the recent closure of visual effects shop Rhythm and Hues, not some worldly issue.
This was a very political year, not just in the movies but in the Oscar campaigns, as studios sought out political figures for screenings and other events, turning the tables on a D.C. crowd that more often depends on them for endorsements. But when the first lady appeared on screen as a co-presenter with Jack Nicholson, her words were to cheer the movies, an inspirational to young people and “vital” to society. It was all feel good, certainly pleasing to Hollywood and, other than unusual and even surreal nature of it all, very non controversial.