The Oscars: The push marketing platform for actors taking a stand
Written by: Emily Tuohy, Design: Monika Monko
On February 26, 2017, the 89th edition of the Oscars Academy Awards took place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. As usual, it was a spectacular night of glitz and glamor on the red carpet, of tears and heartfelt speeches. There have been many memorable moments at the awards, but this year’s edition may go down in history. And not only for its fiasco in which La La Land was mistakenly announced as the winner of Best Picture, instead of the actual winner, Moonlight, which had people all over the world in shock. It will probably be going down in history as one of the most politically charged as well.
The Oscars have had a growing reputation of shining bright spotlights on people in the entertainment industry aiming to address political events on stage. We have grown comfortable with the awards ceremonies evolving into a political platform, of “thank you” speeches being less about the “thank you’s” and more about taking a stand. If I say “Leonardo DiCaprio,” the first thing that might come to mind may no longer be Titanic or Shutter Island, but climate change, a subject that takes center stage in his many speeches. So how did the Oscars Academy stage evolve into a push marketing strategy for actors attempting to communicate their political and ethical ideologies?
A history of political speeches
According to many, the history of the political Oscar speech speech started in 1973, when Marion Brando boycotted the Oscars but was nominated for Best Actor for his role in The Godfather. He sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to refuse the reward on his behalf. By doing this, he made his statement against among others things, the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans in the entertainment industry. The event raised mixed feelings in the audience and lead to the Academy banning speeches by proxy. After this, came a long line of actors taking the stage to give a shout-out to a good cause or to make a political statement. In 1975, Bert Schneider read a telegramfrom the North Vietnamese ambassador thanking Americans who had pushed to end the war. In 1993, Richard Gere spoke of human rights violations in China and Tibet. That same year, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon called attention to the situation in Guantanamo Bay, where Haitians were barred from entering the U.S. after testing positive for HIV.
However, the Oscars weren’t always welcoming towards politics on stage. So how did the Oscars Academy react to these sudden developments of protests and outcries? ? According to the Los Angeles Times, Bob Rehme, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, claimed the organization disliked political speeches because the program is an inappropriate place for them. Oscar show producer Gil Cates, added “I know these people are of good heart. I’m not questioning their politics and their good will, I’m questioning their taste and appropriateness.” Despite their disapproval, it didn’t stop there. In 2002, Halle Barry was the first woman of color to win a Best Actress Oscar, when she took the opportunity to explain the political significance of that exact moment. Modern day speeches can be best compared with Michael Moore’s speech in 2003, when he angrily spoke of George W. Bush’s fictitious reasons to send the country to war, being only days after the president had launched the invasion of Iraq. And one of the most political moments yet might be when Michelle Obama made an appearance to announce an award nomination.
Trump takes over Oscars of 2017
It’s a given - a simple “thank you” is no longer enough. So with the Oscars coming up, we all asked ourselves “Will yet another actor make a political statement? Who will it be?” We saw many nominated names come by who had recently addressed concerning issues, from Viola Davis who spoke of learning to embrace herself in the world of Hollywood, to Emma Stone of fighting for what’s right, to both Nathalie Portman and Meryl Streep who have each called out at Trump on separate occasions. Let us not forget Dev Patel who also spoke about Trump’s Muslim ban, calling it “horrible” and “divisive.” There were a lot of nominees that had something to say. That’s why it came as no surprise that this year’s show might have been the most politically charged yet, with Trump taking centre-stage in all jokes, sneers, and speeches. It started off with host Jimmy Kimmel’s opening words which he used to mock the president. It seemed like the rest of the evening, one after the next actor used the Oscars as an opportunity to give their say about the current president’s ideologies. Mexican actor Gabrial Garcia Bernal and Suicide Squad’s Alessandro Bertolazzi each stood up for immigrants worldwide, in protest of the wall being built along the Mexican border.
Iranian film director, Asghar Farhadi, wasn’t in attendance to accept his award for Best Foreign Language Film for The Salesmen. Instead, Anousheh Ansari, the first Muslim woman in space, and Firouz Naderi, a former director at NASA, took the stage to read a formal letter he had written: “I’m sorry I’m not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.” Farhadi had been denied entry to the U.S., although having been used a Visa beforehand. Nominee for Documentary Short for his film The White Helmets, Syrian cinematographer, Khaled Khatib, had also been banned last-minute from traveling to the U.S. for Sunday’s Academy Awards.
Most likely in reaction to the past years years #Oscarssowhite controversy and Trump’s rules battling transgender rights, many spoke of diversity and equality. Academy president, Cheryl Bone Isaacs, and presenter Warren Beatty both spoke of the importance of diversity. Writer-director of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins, who among other guests was rocking a blue ribbon, delivered a speech in support of both colored and LGBTQ communities. “The Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back, and for the next four years we will not leave you alone, we will not forget you.” An outcry of goodwill and support for those who need it most.
Speeches as a reflection of history
Some of us may see these political speeches as a drag, as yet another moment when the rich and famous get to tell the world what’s on their minds. Some of us get the popcorn ready for the excitement of what may happen this year. For years, celebrities have been using their fame and status to bring attention to concerning issues. It has been proven on several occasions that publicly liked celebrities can make a difference. Political and controversial opinions of celebrities do matter. Leonardo DiCaprio got people to care about climate change. Celebrities live in the same world as us normal people, but they have the opportunity to share it through a hugely broadcasted microphone with millions of people listening. They can use the stage as a strategy to market their ideas and sell their ideologies to the public. Looking back at the Oscars, we see historical developments, as their speeches make a difference and create records of history. The Oscars aren't merely about the glitz and glamor anymore. It’s a place where the famous get to market their ideas. By providing a platform for speeches about what matters, the show has been layered with more integrity and realness. And we’d like to thank all those who tactfully injected their statements and opinions into their speeches, for exactly that.