There’s as much drama off as there is on-screen when it comes to Oscars night, and there certainly has been plenty to pipe up about lately: Harvey Weinstein and the emergence of the #MeToo movement; yet another mass school shooting in Florida; continuing tensions on racial ratios of nominees.
#MeToo and #TimesUp
Over the past few months we’ve watched as a wave of sexual misconduct and assault allegations have rocked some of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry. Hollywood reacted and the #MeToo and #TimesUp anti-sexual harassment movements were born. Progress is evident this year as 21 out of the Academy’s 24 categories feature female nominees, including Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig who has become the fifth woman ever nominated for Best Director.
#OscarsSoWhiteIn 2015 the fact that all 20 acting nominees were white sparked a campaign that helped to raise awareness on decades of disparity within the academy. #OscarsSoWhite was the #TimesUp movement last year and the efforts have paid off. Moonlight, a story about a young gay African-American, won Best Picture, and this year’s nominations have multiple people of colour in all categories including Jordan Peele who has made history in becoming the first black director nominated for Picture, Director and Screenplay for his debut film Get Out.
Marlon Brando Boycotts the Oscars
It’s 1973 and Marlon Brando has just been announced as the Best Actor winner for his performance as Vito Corleone in The Godfather. However, instead of seeing the man himself take to the stage, up comes as actress-activist Sacheen Littlefeather to decline his Oscar on his behalf. See, Brando had boycotted the ceremony in response to the Wounded Knee incident and due to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie reruns.” Littlefeather was met with a mixed response of boos and applause.
Hattie McDaniel and the Segregated Ceremony
The Oscars have been handing out little gold statuettes since 1929, but it wasn’t until 1940 that an African-American actor won one. Hattie McDaniel won the Best Supporting Actress prize for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Although this accolade didn’t outdo the atrocity of McDaniel having to sit at a segregated table at the back of the room of the Ambassador Hotel, a venue that at the time held a “no coloureds” policy. It would be 51 more years until the next African-American woman won an Oscar, which went to Whoopi Goldberg for her supporting role in Ghost.
“Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you” Michael Moore
Never one to be kept quiet, Michael Moore took home an Oscar in 2003 for Bowling for Columbine, a documentary which was an early call for gun control (very sad then that 19 years later we’re watching the latest high school shooting in Florida where 17 people were killed). Moore used his acceptance speech to protest the invasion of Iraq that had started four days before the event. He denounced George Bush calling him a “fictitious president.” The mix of boos and cheers was met with loud music to outplay Moore who was still speaking.
Sarandon, Robbins and Gere get a Slap on the Wrist from the Academy
In 1993, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins presented the prize for best editing and used the platform to highlight the plight of Haitian HIV victims in Cuba, asking authorities to admit 250 refugees to the US. Oscar producer Gil Cates called their actions “outrageous, distasteful and dishonest” and said the pair would not be invited back. Cates threatened to ban the actors, including Richard Gere for his talk on Tibet, from future Oscars broadcasts because they departed from their scripted speeches to make political statements.
And the Oscar speech goes to… Sean Penn
Sean Penn delivered a stand-out performance as gay rights activist Harvey Milk who was shot to death in 1978 in San Francisco. Penn was rewarded by the Academy with the Best Actor gong in 2009. Sharp-tongued Penn discussed the topic of Milk more broadly in his acceptance speech and called for equal rights for the gay community:
“I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support.”