And the Oscar for Best Protest Goes To…

Awards show activism, then and now.

Joel Bleifuss February 28, 2018

"Shame on you, Mr. Bush,” said Michael Moore when accepting the Oscar for Bowling for Columbine.

Vanes­sa Red­grave Caused a stir in 1978 by using her Best Sup­port­ing Actress Oscar speech (for Julia) to cas­ti­gate the small bunch of Zion­ist hood­lums” pick­et­ing her doc­u­men­tary about Pales­tine. In recent years, awards show activism has become more rule than excep­tion. Win­ners have used the mic to decry the gen­der wage gap (Patri­cia Arquette, 2015), exhort teens to stay weird” (Gra­ham Moore, 2015, in an odd­ly aimed anti-sui­cide pitch), and raise aware­ness of home­less youth (Miley Cyrus, 2014, in an attempt to shake off her twerk­ing scan­dal — which, depend­ing on whom you ask, was either about sala­cious­ness, cul­tur­al appro­pri­a­tion or bad dancing).

"Actors have collectively and strategically used industry awards shows as bully pulpits to break through the corporate media narrative."

But on occa­sion, actors have col­lec­tive­ly and strate­gi­cal­ly used indus­try awards shows as bul­ly pul­pits to break through the cor­po­rate media nar­ra­tive. That hap­pened at this year’s Gold­en Globes (see page 28). Eight actors brought activists as guests, to help refo­cus the #MeToo atten­tion from celebri­ties to mar­gin­al­ized workers.

It also hap­pened in 2003, when the cor­po­rate media was still suf­fer­ing from a post‑9/​11 attack of jin­go­ism and boos­t­er­ism. In a May 5, 2003, col­umn for In These Times , Joel Blei­fuss described celebri­ty attempts, led by Michael Moore, to use the Acad­e­my Awards as a pul­pit for peace — and the dif­fi­cul­ties even they faced in get­ting their mes­sage through the cen­sors. Blei­fuss wrote:

Gael Gar­cia Bernal, the hunky star of Y Tu Mamá Tam­bién , intro­duc­ing the nom­i­nat­ed best song from Fri­da, said to loud applause: The neces­si­ty for peace in the world is not a dream, it is a real­i­ty. And we are not alone. If Fri­da was alive, she would be on our side, against war.” …

And the audi­ence cheered as Adrien Brody, who won best actor for The Pianist , admon­ished the orches­tra to stop so he could say, Whether you believe in Allah or God, may he watch over you, and pray for a peace­ful and swift res­o­lu­tion to this war.”

In a veiled protest against the war, which went unre­port­ed, Bono, lead singer of U2, sang The Hands that Built Amer­i­ca” from Gangs of New York, chang­ing two lines of the song. Instead of:

It’s ear­ly fall, there is a cloud

on the New York skyline,

Inno­cents across a yel­low line.

Bono sang,

Late in the spring, yel­low cloud on a

desert sky­line,

Some father’s son, is it his or is it mine?

And then there was Michael Moore. He received a stand­ing ova­tion when Bowl­ing for Columbine was announced the win­ner of best doc­u­men­tary. The Chica­go Tri­bunes Mark Caro report­ed that the press­room also erupt­ed in applause. …

Tak­ing the stage, flanked by doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ers, Moore said:

I’ve invit­ed my fel­low doc­u­men­tary nom­i­nees on the stage with us. They are here in sol­i­dar­i­ty with me because we like non­fic­tion. We like non­fic­tion and we live in fic­ti­tious times. We live in a time when we have fic­ti­tious elec­tion results that elect a fic­ti­tious pres­i­dent. We live in a time where we have a man send­ing us to war for fic­ti­tious rea­sons, whether it is the fic­tion of duct tape or the fic­tion of orange alerts. We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you. And any time that you have the Pope and the Dix­ie Chicks against you, your time is up.

John Horn of the Los Ange­les Times report­ed that as Moore’s speech reached its crescen­do” Acad­e­my Award pro­duc­er Gil Cates and direc­tor Louis Horvitz, who were in the pro­duc­tion truck, decid­ed to cut him off. Music! Music!’ Horvitz yelled. The orches­tra quick­ly drowned out the rest of Moore’s speech.” And his micro­phone reced­ed into the floor.

Some of the Hol­ly­wood audi­ence smiled and applaud­ed, some appeared stunned, and a con­tin­gent in an upper bal­cony booed, but stage­hands, who were close to the micro­phones, booed loud­ly, mak­ing it appear to a tele­vi­sion lis­ten­er that Moore’s crit­i­cism of Pres­i­dent Bush was not well received. …

Moore want­ed it made clear that despite the loud boos from the stage­hands, most in the Hol­ly­wood audi­ence were behind him: Don’t report that there was a split deci­sion in the hall because five peo­ple booed,” he said. I did not hear that. I saw the entire place stand up and applaud, applaud a film that talks about how we are manip­u­lat­ed by the fear that’s put forth by the White House and put forth by cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca to cre­ate a cul­ture of vio­lence at home and abroad.” …

Amer­i­ca, he said, is not divid­ed. … The major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans do not want to see their boys or girls killed in this war.” …

Most of the nation­al media, in their role as wartime cheer­lead­ers, report­ed that Moore was round­ly booed. Kurt Loder of MTV, report­ing on Michael Moore’s wit­less flip-out,” wrote: Moore’s spit­tle­flecked undu­la­tions were so over-the-top, that even the Oscar crowd — his nat­ur­al con­stituen­cy, you might think — erupt­ed in a storm of boos.”

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

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