The Academy Awards are arriving at a time of upheaval: the #MeToo movement, the #NeverAgain movement, racial discord and, of course, the latest drama coming from the White House.
The question isn’t so much whether politics will be part of the Oscars, it’s how these issues will be presented and how often is too often for them to be raised during the evening. Trump likely will be the focus of Kimmel’s barbs and perhaps a winner’s swipes, but this year the issues hanging over the ceremony are about much more than the president’s persona.
The ingredients are there, in fact, for the most political Oscars in decades, and in no small part because Jimmy Kimmel is returning to host the ceremony. Kimmel said the show will certainly address #MeToo.
“It’ll be a part of the show,” Kimmel told Variety Wednesday. “I can’t give you a percentage, but it’ll be a part of it.”
Kimmel is coming off a year in which he injected himself into the national conversation over healthcare, gun violence and other issues, using his perch to call attention to issues with a mixture of quips, satire and seriousness.
The notion that the Oscars have gotten so political that it has driven viewers away is a sentiment likely to come from those on the right this year, too.
“If last year’s dismal ratings didn’t make it clear, Americans aren’t interested in Hollywood liberals blabbing about politics to a room full of Hollywood liberals,” Steve Guest, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, told Variety. “They’re busy taking their ‘crumbs’ to the bank after Republicans delivered on tax cuts.”
The Oscars are coming at a time when institutions and corporations are facing pressure to wade into controversial topics that in the past they may have tried to avoid. That was certainly the case over the weekend, as a parade of companies, including Delta, Hertz and United, announced that they were severing ties with the National Rifle Association following the school shootings in Lakeland, Fla.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has been a leader of the MeToo movement on Capitol Hill, told Variety, “I hope we use whatever platforms we are given to use our voices, about our values, about what we care about and what we want to have happen in this country. So I wouldn’t be surprised if you hear a call for common sense gun reform, a call for valuing women and valuing all members of society. And so I am looking forward to people speaking about what they care about.”
The Oscars have a long tradition of hosts, presenters and winners using the platform to make political statements, with varying degrees of applause, effectiveness and backlash.
Now, using the Oscars as a platform isn’t all that unusual. It’s expected.
In 2015, Patricia Arquette, in accepting an Oscar for her performance in “Boyhood,” called for gender equality and pay equity. A California lawmaker introduced fair pay legislation soon after, and credited Arquette’s call out for helping to build momentum for the bill. It passed later in the year.
The presidency of Donald Trump has further politicized awards shows in general, what with the appearances of late-night hosts, Hollywood celebrities and creative types more than willing to chime in to counter and condemn his tenure, and Trump’s own willingness to respond.
In the lead up to the Oscars last year, the question was whether Trump would tweet about it. Weeks earlier, after Meryl Streep blasted him during her Golden Globes speech, he called her “overrated.”
As it turned out, Trump didn’t tweet, but he did comment on the big story out of the night, the big mix up in which the wrong best picture winner was announced, “La La Land” instead of “Moonlight.”
“I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn’t get the act together at the end. It was a little sad. It took away from the glamour of the Oscars,” Trump told Breitbart.com.
The #MeToo movement started in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and at this year’s Golden Globes, the criticism was aimed as much if not more at the entertainment industry as it was other sectors of society. It was a platform to promote the Time’s Up initiative, a legal initiative to tackle sexual harassment and assault across all workplaces.
The #NeverAgain movement, launched in the aftermath of the shooting massacre at a Lakeland, Fla., high school, is focused on pressuring lawmakers to pass gun legislation after years of inaction. A March 24 march on Washington quickly drew the financial support of a number of Hollywood figures, including Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney.
Robert Lichter, professor at George Mason University and director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, said that in contrast to the 1970s, when political expressions were met with groans coming from the audience, the situation is much different now.
“This is a ’cause solidarity,'” he said. “Solidarity against Trump. Solidarity about gun violence. …I will be surprised if, one way or the other, there are not a lot of expressions of political unity.”
On an issue like gun violence, the social media reaction to the Lakeland shootings, led by high school students, may be changing the equation. Rather than stepping into a divisive political issue, a showbiz figure is instead amplifying a movement that is garnering popular support.
“There is such an outpouring expressed immediately and collectively on social media,” Lichter said, adding, “I would expect that people in Hollywood think they should give voice to this feeling, especially when it comes to school children.”
“You really can’t lose by going political this year.”