by Steven Shults
It’s been at least ten years since I’ve watched The Oscars, probably more like fifteen. The whole spectacle makes about as much sense to me as taking an apple, an orange, a banana, a pear and a peach and voting one “best fruit.”
This year, however, I decided to watch again. I wanted to see who made the choice to display an emblem of peace on their multi-hundred dollar attire, and who had the courage to donate some of their time at the podium to the peace movement.
Overall what I saw was very encouraging. I saw a total of thirty people with silver dove pins or peace symbols on their lapels and gowns shown on camera either while in their seats or at the ‘podium.’ Eight people used their time at the podium to speak for peace, against war or at least to acknowledge that people are suffering because of war. No statements were made in specific support of the invasion of Iraq, though caring and respect was shown for the welfare of the men and women ordered into the hell of combat.
It may seem a small thing to wear a pin or speak your mind, but in a town where “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” taking such a simple action can also be putting your livelihood the line. Perhaps more treacherous is the possibility that one may no longer be ‘allowed’ to practice one’s art. Any artist can tell you that risking the loss of the ability to practice your craft is risking utter heartbreak. For many artists, losing the ability to make art takes with it the will to live. Any artist with even a cursory knowledge of American history knows about the Hollywood ‘blacklist’ of McCarthyism and knows that a recurrence of such a witch hunt is more likely now than at any time since.
Neoconservative McCarthyism has already raised it’s head a few times in Hollywood recently. Sean Penn is suing a producer who Penn says dropped him from a project after Penn visited Iraq and wrote an open letter to Bush criticizing the rush to war. Martin Sheen was asked to tone down his activism and responded with an essay about the democratic right of artists to express their opinions publicly, just as any citizen has that right, without being accused of being ‘un-American’ or ‘unpatriotic.’ Newscasters, pundits, talk show hosts, radio ‘personalities’ and members of the Bush administration have criticized artists and celebrities who have spoken out against this war. In some cases it’s been mild teasing, in other cases it’s been vindictive and cruel, sometimes even threatening.
Those artists who made a statement for peace at the Academy Awards tonight have both conviction and the courage to back it up. Their belief that the war against Iraq is an unjust and unnecessary war is strong enough that they are willing to risk their ability to practice their art, their ability to work at their chosen craft, to make a statement against the war. This is not to attempt to equate such risks with laying your life on the line for what you believe in as the peace activists and soldiers who are in Iraq tonight are doing. However the courage to take such risks is no less deserved of respect and praise.
Here are the words of those spoke out for peace, against war and it’s effects, or against the current political climate, while on stage:
“And in light of all the troubles in this world, I wish us all peace.” (loud applause)
Gael Garcia Bernal:
“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.” (whoops, cheers and loud applause)
“I’ve invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage. They’re here in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction. We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in a time where 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’s the fictition of duct tape or fictition of Orange Alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. Any time you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up.” (raucous mixture of booing, cheers and applause starting at midpoint and continuing until exit music)
“It fills me with great joy, but I am also filled with a lot of sadness tonight because I’m accepting an award at such a strange time. My experiences of making this film made me very aware of the sadness and dehumanization of people in times of war and the repercussions of war. Whether you believe in God or Allah, may he watch over you and let’s pray for a peaceful and swift resolution.” (loud applause) “I have a friend from Queens who’s a soldier in Kuwait right now, Tommy Szarabinski, and I hope you and your boys make it back real soon and God bless you guys, I love you.” (more applause and standing ovation)
“I’m very proud to live in a country that guarantees every citizen, including artists, the right to sing and to say what we believe.” (loud applause)
“Why do you come to the Academy Awards when the world is in such turmoil? Because art is important” (cheers and applause) “Because art is important and because you believe in what you do and you want to honor that. At the same time you say there’s a lot of problems in the world and since 9/11 there’s been a lot of pain in terms of families losing people, and now there’s a war with families losing people, and God bless them.” (loud applause and cheers)
Frank Pierson (academy president):
“To our men and women overseas, godspeed and let’s get you home soon. And to the Iraqi people, I say, let’s have peace soon and let you live without war.” (loud applause)
“I would like to dedicate this award to all the people that are raising their voices in favor of peace, respect of human rights, democracy and international legality” (cheers and loud applause)
Of these statements, Adrian Brody’s was by far the most eloquent, the most moving and the most powerful. It was made even more so by the fact that the orchestra had begun to play to signal that his time was up, but he admonished them to stop playing so he could speak his peace (literally and figuratively.) The enthusiastic appreciation of the standing ovation which followed made his words yet more powerful as the vast majority of his peers in attendance added their support of his sentiments by their ovation.
Michael Moore’s acceptance speech will get far more media attention than Brody’s however. In perfect Michael Moore style, he expressed raw indignation and ire in with no holds barred. Those who booed seemed to do so with premeditation, as if they had already decided to boo him before he opened his mouth. This caused Moore to have to yell to be heard above them, adding a harshness to the moment. Though I’m quite fond of Michael Moore’s movies, books and politics, my first reaction was that he had gone too far and that others who followed him later in the evening would be less inclined to speak out because of it. The tension in the air was quite palpable for several minutes after Moore left the stage. Then again there are times and situations which perhaps require that we go a bit ‘too far’ and this is surely one of those times.
Showing their awareness of these times, the following artists (and a few producers) were seen on camera at the 75th Academy Awards wearing either a silver dove or a peace symbol and/or flashed a peace sign while on camera: (in relative order of appearance) Amy Madigan, Josh Brolin, Harvey Weinstein, Chris Cooper, Rob Marshall, Don Carmody, Sir Ben Kingsley, Adrian Brody, Sylvia Plachy, Richard Gere, Brendan Fraser, Salma Hayek, Beatrice De Alba, Michael Douglas, Daniel Day Lewis, Julie Taymor, Martin Scorsese, David Lee, Michael Moore, Michael Donovan, Colin Farrell, Bono, Gina Davis, Susan Sarandon, Pedro Aldomovar, Scott Rudin, Stephen Daldry, Joel Grey, Angelica Huston and Meryl Streep.
Two lapels had small pins the shape or form of which I could not identify, those of Peter O’Toole and Kirk Douglas. Douglas had a strip of blue ribbon visible under his lapel pin as well. Frank Pierson was wearing either a button with the Oscar statue on it, or a yellow ribbon on a black background, it was difficult to see which.
The evening saw only three lapel items which could be construed as pro-war. The wearers may not have intended those symbols to be a statement of support for the war, but the neoconservatives have done a thorough enough job of co-opting those symbols that most of us tend to read them as pro-war. Specifically I’m referring to Texan Matthew McConaughey’s red, white and blue boutonniere, Jon Voight’s American flag lapel pin, and Chad Lowe’s yellow ribbon. Of these, Jon Voight’s is likely the only one which could be interpreted as something other than a pro-war sentiment, unless Chad Lowe is a big Tony Orlando & Dawn fan or too young to remember ‘Desert Storm.’ Any doubt about the meaning of McConaughey’s red, white and blue boutonniere was forcefully removed after Adrian Brody’s eloquent and moving words about the dehumanization of people in times of war and the resultant standing ovation. As Brody was leaving the stage and Dustin Hoffman was doing the intro to his presentation, we were shown a close-up of McConaughey as he sat fuming and clenching his jaws with the tension of trying to restrain a very visible anger.
Begrudgingly I must admit to having more respect for those who chose to express their pro-war views with their lapel-wear than I have for those who are against this war but chose to make no statement at all. Earlier this week Artists United to Win Without War circulated a press release which announced Dustin Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Ben Affleck, among others, had agreed to wear pins showing a blue peace sign on a green background specially designed for the event. Kathy Bates was named with others reported to have agreed to wear the Dove of Peace pins provided by Global Vision for Peace. But these artists chose not to follow through. Apparently these four lacked the courage of their convictions. Perhaps the fear of Neoconservative yellow-ribbon McCarthyism backlash was too much for them. Or perhaps they simply forgot that silence equals complicity.