Thursday, February 2, 2017
The spheres of art and entertainment and politics have collided recently in an unprecedented way: as the whole world knows, President Donald Trump on January 27th. signed an executive order banning all immigrants to the US from seven mostly Muslim countries. The effect of this has been chaotic, with protests erupting at airports nation wide. It has also hit the Academy Awards: among this year's nominees are Iranian director Asghar Farhadi and several Syrian people who appeared in the short documentary film WHITE HELMETS. Under the Trump order they are all barred from entering the country, a chilling example of political overreach; the notion that Farhadi, who had already attended the awards ceremony in 2012 when his excellent film A SEPARATION won best foreign film, is in some way a threat to the country is absurd and offensive. Although there has been some talk of giving special consideration to Farhadi and the Syrians, that just underlines the danger of the whole order: why should they be allowed to go to a ceremony, but many people fleeing for their very lives are not being allowed in? Farhadi recently told the New York Times that he will not attend the ceremony either way, which I think is the right move. But it raises a larger question: should the Academy ban the Oscar ceremony entirely?
In the course of its history, the Oscars have been postponed several times: because of a flood in 1938, because of the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, and because of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981. But outright cancelled? The idea was probably first floated in an article in VOX magazine yesterday, and was later picked up in the AV CLUB website today. The issue is sure to spread and be widely debated.
Now on the one hand, cancelling the Oscars would certainly send a message and create awareness about what our new president has done; the cancelling of a major awards show would let the world know that Hollywood and millions of other Americans do not want Trump's actions to speak for all us. Although he has tried to compare his order to past orders made by presidents Bush and Obama, there has never been one as far reaching or openly discriminatory, with some people left in limbo and families being separated. Getting rid of the show would remind the country that the man we have elected is not a normal politician, but an unexperienced one who ran on a platform of bigotry; it would help prevent the normalization of a highly divisive figure, perhaps the most divisive president ever. It would acknowledge that now is not the time for frivolous star watching and "best dressed" lists.
On the other hand, because the Academy Awards is routinely one of the most watched TV events of the year, it could give a format to outspoken members of Hollywood to air their anger at the Trump administration, and perhaps hit inside that middle American Fox News bubble. Political speeches are nothing new at the Academy Awards, and they range from the odd moment when Marlon Brando sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to pick up his Oscar for THE GODFATHER in 1973 and lecture the audience about negative portrayals of Native Americans, to Micheal Moore being booed in 2003 for criticizing the Iraq war while winning for his documentary BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE. Surely Trump's recent actions will bring more political speeches to the fore, and perhaps the entire show will take a more serious tone, which might be a good thing considering the troubled times we now live in.
Finally, there is the financial angle to consider; the ad revenue that would be lost from the show's cancellation would number in the millions. I imagine the pressure from the ABC network on the Academy to keep the show is huge, which, in the end, will probably be the deciding factor in still putting on the show, even if the Academy won't admit it! Personally, I can understand both arguments, but I lean towards calling it off to let the world know that business as usual is not going to be standard with a demagogue like Trump in the White House.