Do Politics And Awards Shows Mix?
Answers from Richard Dreyfuss, Martin Landau, Richard Lewis, Robert Wuhl, Dee Wallace, Bruce Davison, Bai Ling, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and others - including the statement from Iranian Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi, who did not appear to accept his award on Sunday night to protest Trump’s travel ban
The 2017 Academy Awards will be remembered for the huge gaff at the end of the show when the wrong best picture winner was initially announced, but surprisingly it will not be known for its political statements.
It is not that there weren’t a few political moments, jokes, and references, but it was mild compared to what many had been anticipating. After the explosive remarks by Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes and the all-out blasts at Trump policies that filled the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Oscars left those looking for explosive political statements wondering why the curtain seemed to have fallen on much of the expected anger.
If the medium is still the message, the message on this year’s Academy Awards was that less may be more. For all the political theater on recent award shows, there is still mixed feelings about what is appropriate and relevant in the midst of the glam and glitz of a televised kudofest. That is not only the case with the general citizenry but also among those in show business.
That was certainly the case at a black-tie Oscar viewing party called “The Night of 100 Stars” held in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday evening, based on an unscientific survey of stars and star watchers on hand to see and be seen.
The glitzy event has been put on for nearly three decades by producer Norby Walters, a former agent and producer with a wide range of show biz friends and followers. This year’s event dinner and viewing party was sponsored in part by controversial clothing manufacturer Peter Nygard, who was on hand to discuss his research in ways to use stem cells to reverse or at least slow down aging.
Until just a few years ago it was considered bad manners to make overtly political statements when accepting awards. Marlon Brando (who sent an American Indian to accept his acting Oscar in 1973), Michael Moore, Sean Penn, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and others were criticized for years after addressing causes that they felt passionate about – but which turned off many viewers.
A thoughtful Los Angeles Times article on Sunday by Steven Zeitchik headlined, “A blue-red state of mind” recalled the reaction when Vanessa Redgrave used her acceptance speech when she won best supporting actress in 1978 criticize “Zionist hoodlums” where protested her attendance at the Academy Awards that year.
“Paddy Chayefsky, presenting screenwriting prizes, took the podium and said, 'I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagating of their own personal political propaganda.'”
In the Internet age, however, where everything is fodder for social media and instant analysis, political correctness no longer seems like an alien idea. For some, the political fireworks have become part of the show, even if for others it is a reason to just tune out the noise.
Asghar Farhadi when he won his first Oscar for "A Separation" in 2012
The most powerful political statement of the evening came from someone who was not even on hand to pick up his Oscar. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi had declined to attend after President Donald Trump issued a travel ban on those from seven countries, including his own. Even after a court put the ban on hold, Farhadi refused to come to the Oscars out of solidarity with his fellow countrymen. When he won his second Oscar for best foreign film, The Salesman, on Sunday, Farahadi sent a powerful statement instead.
“I’m sorry I’m not with you tonight,” wrote Farhadi. “My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations whom have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.” (The complete text of his statement is at the end of this article).
Here is a sampling of what some of those at the “Night of 100 Stars” had to say when asked if they thought presenters or winners should make political statements:
RICHARD DREYFUSS (an Oscar winner whose memorable movies include American Graffiti, Jaws, the Goodbye Girl, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and last year’s excellent mini-series in which he portrayed investment scammer Bernie Madoff).
“Of course it’s right (for actors to speak out). The only people who say that they should not are the people who disagree with what they are saying. But when an actor says something they agree with, they think it’s fine. The fact is we’re Americans. We have a right and a kind of privilege to speak out in public about politics, and if you get a shot in front of a billion people, you’re an idiot not to do it, for either side, Democrat or Republican.”
ROBERT FORSTER (an Oscar nominee for Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, he has appeared in numerous movies and TV shows including Last Man Standing, Breaking Bad, London Has Fallen, The Delta Force and Reflections in a Golden Eye).
“No. This is about art. What else is there to say? Art is different. Art is beyond. Art is above. Art is out of the political realm.”
MARTIN LANDAU (An Oscar winner for Ed Wood, he had a long list of top credits from the original Mission Impossible TV series to Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Tucker: The Man and His Dream and Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest).
“In today’s climate, I would say yes. I think we’re living in very treacherous times. I think people who have opinions should give vent to those opinions. I’m not saying it’s something I recommend all the time but today with what is happening in the world, I think it’s not a bad idea. An actor has a right to say what he feels. He is a citizen.”
Bai Ling photo by Coleen Forward
BAI LING (the Chinese-American actress has appeared in such films as The Crow, Red Corner, Wild Wild West and Anna and The King, and on TV Entourage, Lost and more).
“Award shows should be about ART! That is how we will make America great again.”
RICHARD LEWIS (the stand-up comedian is also an actor whose credits include Robin Hood: Men In Tights, the TV series Anything But Love and The Wrong Guys. He has written for Playboy, appeared with Howard Stern and done specials for HBO).
“I think a political statement is fair game anywhere, any time. I’m a first amendment guy. That’s where it’s at. I’ve always felt you should speak your mind. I’ve taken some criticism before but I don’t care. It’s a short journey here so we might as well make the most of it and speak our mind. I don’t go to a shrink anymore so I need a platform.”
ROBERT WUHL (an actor, comedian and writer, he starred in the TV series Arliss, and appeared as a reporter in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie. He is often on ESPN and did a one-man show on HBO called Assume the Position With Mr. Wuhl which provided an alternate view of American history).
“Absolutely! If you are going to make a political statement, what are you going to do? If you have the biggest audience in the world would you rather do it there or tell your bartender? Of course, I say go for it. If people boo or cheer, it still excites everybody…The more emotional the better. I love it. I don’t want to hear them thank their agent, manger, masseuse, publicist. What do I give a shit about them for? If you’re passionate, go after it.”
TANYA TUCKER (the country music singer began her career while still a teenager with the hit Delta Dawn. Her albums have included What’s Your Mama’s Name? and Strong Enough To Bend).
“No, it’s entertainment! If you want to be in politics, get out of entertainment.”
BRUCE DAVISON (An Academy Award nominee for Longtime Companion, he has worked extensively in film and TV. His credits include the cult horror movie Willard, the X-Men movies and ABC’s The Fosters).
“Absolutely! Everybody else does. Why should we be eliminated from expressing our opinions just as well as anybody else? They can call us all the names they want but we have an opinion too. Just like everybody has an asshole, everybody has an opinion and if we’re going to get up there in front of a lot of people I think it’s important you should say what you mean.”
Sharon Gless photo by Coleen Forward
SHARON GLESS (she was Cagney in the long-running TV series Cagney & Lacey, and more recently starred on the TV series Burn Notice. Her movies include Airport 1975, The Star Chamber and Once Fallen).
“Sure, if it’s not too long! I worked hard to get Hillary elected. I am still reeling.”
DEE WALLACE (In the megahit movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, she was Elliott’s mom. She has been seen in The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling and Cujo. Her films include The Stepford Wives and Critters. She also lectures, hosts radio shows and writes self-help books).
“Yes, if you have a voice and a platform where people listen, it's vital that you get that message out. You should take that opportunity. If you can do it in a respectful way, in a succinct way, then get up and speak. There are a lot of things at stake in our country right now, and people are scared. And when people are scared, we tend to want to speak out more.”
BRENT ROSKE (A producer and former Congressional candidate, he moved to Iowa where he has produced TV shows and feature films, including Chasing The Hills, Courting Des Moines and Roske On Politics).
“There is no bigger media platform than the Oscars. Right now emotions are running high and a lot of people have something to say. As a career move it is questionable but if there was ever a time to do it, this is probably the most amenable time to make political statements.”
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa Photo by Colleen Forward
CARY-HIROYUKI TAGAWA (The Japanese-American actor, sports physiologist, martial arts and stuntman is currently seen on the series The Man In the High Castle (based on a novel by Philip K. Dick), which looks at what America might be like if it had lost World War II.
“Yes, it’s a Hollywood tradition.”
ED ASNER (The actor and former President of the Screen Actor’s Guild has a long history of political activism. He starred on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spinoff, The Lou Grant Show. He has had roles in dozens of movies and TV shows and voiced the lead in Pixar’s Up).
“Absolutely. It’s free speech.”
ANGELENA BONET (She is an Australian TV host, singer and songwriter, actress and former model, who is a self-described “trouble maker.”).
“I personally feel they should just thank the producer and everybody involved in the filmmaking and process. I think it’s about the awards. It’s about the films. It’s about being humble and just graciously accepting your Oscar.”
PETER MARK RICHMAN (He has appeared on dozens of movie and TV shows including The Twilight Zone, Daniel Boone, the Wild Wild West and Star Trek: The Next Generation).
“I wish they wouldn’t. It alienates those who are pro and con. It doesn’t do anything for their career.”
Wink Martindale Photo by Coleen Forward
WINK MARTINDALE (The game show host, disc jockey and producer is known for hosting Tic Tac Dough and Debt, among others).
“No political statements.”
Asghar Farhadi with the stars of "The Salesman"
Which leads us to the full text of the political statement by two time Oscar winning director Asghar Farhadi, who took home best foreign film on Sunday for The Salesman:
"It's a great honor to be receiving this valuable award for the second time. I would like to thank the members of the Academy, my crew in Iran, my producer Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Cohen Media, Amazon and my fellow nominees in the foreign film category. I'm sorry I'm not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations whom have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S. Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fear. A deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever."
Special thanks to Dahlia Wilde (left) and Coleen Forward, reporter and photographer, on the red carpet at the "Night Of 100 Stars" Oscar party