The 2017 Oscars ceremony, that gaudy, self-congratulatory Super Bowl of showbiz award nights, airs this Sunday. How many of its 14 nominations will La La Land take home? (Lots.) Will Moonlight pull a last-minute Best Picture upset over director Damien Chazelle’s valentine to vintage musicals and Emma Stone? (Possible, not probable). Can Denzel Washington’s Fences performance do a Best Actor leapfrog over Casey Affleck’s in Manchester By the Sea? (More likely). Will audience favorites like Hidden Figures and Lion upset a few “sure bets”? (Nah.)
But Oscar night’s most water cooler-worthy moments may well revolve around a bunch of boycotts and protests, most of them in response to the President’s travel ban against seven largely Muslim nations, his vow to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and his frequent dissing of the arts in general and Hollywood in particular. Actors and filmmakers have gotten so heated in their criticisms of Trump and his policies during the Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild awards shows that Motion Picture Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs recently equated artists with activists.
Of course, the Academy Awards is no stranger to controversy. Remember last year, when #OscarsSoWhite was trending and activists called for boycotts unless more minority talent got nominated? Better roles and opportunities helped bring diversity to the forefront this year with the acting nominations of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (Fences), Ruth Negga (Loving), Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Fences) and Dev Patel (Lion). Behind the camera, director Barry Jenkins got nominated for Moonlight and Kimberly Steward is nominated as producer of Manchester by the Sea. It’s a start, anyway.
Meanwhile, Trump opposition has galvanized Hollywood in unprecedented ways. Meryl Streep laid down the gauntlet during her Golden Globe Awards speech this January, when she called out Trump for, among other things, mocking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski’s disability during a campaign rally. (For his part, the President has repeatedly denied mocking the reporter, apparently forgetting that many of us have actually watched the astonishingly ugly footage.) The same January night as Streep’s fiery speech, Trump fired back, characterizing the 20-time Oscar nominee as one of those “liberal movie people” in the New York Times and calling her a “Hillary flunky” and “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood” on Twitter. Those and other comments from Trump, who routinely exploits the same media he claims to despise, unleashed a firestorm of social-media mockery.
But it’s his executive actions against minorities—moves termed as “extremely troubling” in a statement released by the Motion Picture Academy—that may raise the biggest yowls at this year’s Oscar show. Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian writer-director of Best Foreign Language Film nominee The Salesman, refuses to attend the awards ceremony, saying that the Trump ban’s imposition of “ifs and buts … are in no way acceptable to me even if exceptions were to be made for my trip.” The Salesman’s female star, Taraneh Alidoosti, also Iranian, is boycotting too.
The A-list agency UTA canceled their Oscar party and will instead donate $250,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union and the International Rescue Committee. Actor Kal Penn forked over more than $850,000 from an IRC fundraiser he launched after someone left him an Instagram that read, “You don’t belong in this country, you fucking joke.” Arrested Development show-stealer David Cross took to Twitter to endorse “a full and complete boycott of the Oscars” to protest Trump’s executive action against immigrants, adding…
It would drive Trump crazy & It’s all anyone would talk about 4 decades. Think of the utter humiliation. The repudiation of all of Hollywood https://t.co/pPcU8Q7tii— )))David Cross((( (@davidcrosss) January 28, 2017
Would it drive Trump crazy? During last Wednesday’s White House press briefing, tone-deaf White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, when asked if 45 would be watching the Oscars and how he might react to another “Meryl Streep kind of moment,” “I don’t know. It’s a free country.“ He also mentioned that the president and First Lady would be hosting at that very same time what he assured would be “a phenomenal event,” the Governors Ball. Spicer also sounded a standard right-wing dog whistle by observing how Hollywood is “rather far to the left in its opinions.” That’s debatable in a town that also includes high profile registered Republicans Adam Sandler, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sylvester Stallone, Jon Voight and oh yeah, Scott Baio.
There’s been a pushback from conservatives, too, epitomized by a Facebook page for a Republican women’s group in Tempe, Arizona. It calls for “decent people of America” to resist the “bitter people of the entertainment industry.” Name-checked are Streep, Alec Baldwin, Madonna, Jennifer Lawrence, Miley Cyrus, Ashley Judd and Cher. The goal? To urge GOP voters to do something else—anything else—instead of watching the Oscars this Sunday night, with this advice: “This will only be effective if we show the same unity we exhibited during the election. Yet how powerful will it be when the ratings for the Academy Awards fall in the toilet. When this happens, the entertainment industry will understand just how insignificant and powerless [they are].”
But let’s be real here. Whether or not Trump watches the Oscars in real time, he has already shown himself to be all about the Oscars—and patently unable to resist a chance to hog the limelight. Trump, who appeared in the movie 1989 Bo Derek flop Ghosts Can’t Do It, among 21 other movie and TV acting credits, live Tweeted during the 2014 awards show, dismissing them as “very tainted” but also proposing himself as the right guy to host the event—so that they would no longer be, as he put it, “boring.”
That’s our Donnie On the Spot, always looking to make himself the center of attention where he’s been neither invited nor wanted. Besides, we know how much he loves all things golden.
Any way you slice it, this year’s Oscar ceremony is one for the history books. After all, calls for boycotts are coming from both pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions. That’s not only unprecedented; it also speaks to how deeply divided Hollywood—and the whole country—is about how to best express our feelings about our President. Which poses the question: If everybody were to boycott this year’s Oscar show, which side would get the credit and which would get the blame?