Oscars Expected to Reflect Anger at Washington

Oscars Expected to Reflect Anger at Washington
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The Academy Awards ceremony, when Hollywood comes together to lavishly honor its own, is also expected to be a reflection of the angry-voter sentiment that has swept the country.

Polls show voters disapprove of the jobs President Obama and Congress are doing, and that feeling has been credited for Donald Trump’s rise to the top of the GOP presidential field and given Bernie Sanders ammunition in his fight against Hillary Clinton.

And, as major cultural event with heavy viewership – 36.6 million people watched last year’s telecast – combined with politically involved celebrities, Sunday night’s show is expected to be fraught with political references, particularly in an election year.

Hollywood, in its own way, is typically more attuned to people’s feelings than Washington. It runs on a business model, in which people often purchase a product (such as tickets to a movie) that reflects their mood. Two of the films up for best picture – “Spotlight” and “The Big Short” – address corruption within large societal institutions: the Catholic Church in the former and Wall Street in the latter.

“Hollywood right now is a reflection [of] the genuine anger and dissatisfaction that America has at Washington,” said Bill Burton, a former Obama spokesman who heads the Los Angeles office of the political consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker.

Even the Oscar campaigning skipped Washington this year, which was noteworthy change from a few years ago when Steven Spielberg brought his campaign for “Lincoln” to Capitol Hill and the White House. And Bradley Cooper attended a D.C. premiere for “American Sniper.”

There is precedent for political talk at a cultural event. At last year’s ceremony, Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress to call for gender equality in wages.

"To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she said.

A likely candidate for a political speech this year is Leonardo DiCaprio, the front-runner for Best Actor (in “The Revenant”) and a passionate supporter of the environmental movement. At the 2007 Oscar ceremony, DiCaprio brought former Vice President Al Gore on stage for a presentation. Mark Ruffalo, a nominee for Best Supporting Actor (“Spotlight”), has tweeted his concern about the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

And, in the lead-up to the ceremony, actors have used other occasions to sound off on the anger roiling America.

At the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January, “Spotlight” won in the ensemble cast category and actor Michael Keaton gave an acceptance speech that might have been a better fit for the campaign trail.

"This is really for the disenfranchised everywhere. This is for every Flint, Michigan, in the world. This is for the powerless, this is for the powerful who take advantage of the powerless. And you can hang me for that. ... I don't really care. That's who I am proud to be part of this [for]. Thank you very much. It comes down to two things: There's fair, and there's unfair. And I'm always going to vote for the fair. I'm always gonna pull for the good guys,” he said.

Focusing on presidential politics can also deflect from the Oscars’ own scandal: #OscarSoWhite.The hashtag appeared after criticism that no black actors received acting nominations for the second year in a row. The controversy led Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith to announce they will boycott the ceremony.

It is a complication for host Chris Rock, who is expected to address the issue. He canceled scheduled media interviews after the controversy erupted, the Hollywood Reporter noted. His only public comment was to tweet in January: “"The #Oscars. The White BET Awards."

He’s being seen as saving his words for the large stage he’ll have Sunday night.

And he’s certainly not been shy about speaking his mind before.

In a widely read 2014 interview with New York magazine, Rock said: “To say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

In an election year with colorful figures like Trump and Sanders, politics will be an easy target for Rock.

But politicians have shown they can hit back at the industry.

At the Washington Press Club Foundation’s Congressional Dinner Thursday night, Sen. Barbara Boxer joked: "Have you seen Bernie Sanders’ rallies? I haven't seen that many white people since the Oscars.”

And there will be one politician on hand to witness the Academy Awards in person. Vice President Joe Biden will attend the ceremony with his wife, Jill, the Los Angeles Times reported, in order to introduce a performance by Lady Gaga. It’s a neat confluence, one occasion where Hollywood and Washington are in sync: Biden championed the Violence Against Women Act during his days in the Senate, and Lady Gaga is nominated in the Best Song category for a documentary about campus sexual assault titled “The Hunting Ground.”

Emily Goodin is the managing editor of RealClearPolitics.

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