Natalie Portman and Joaquin Phoenix 
Snapshot
  • Fewer and fewer people are tuning in to watch the Oscars. It might have to do with increasing political correctness and holier-than-thou attitude of the stars.

The 2020 Oscars, the 92nd, were announced on 9 February evening in Los Angeles and watched by 23.6 million people, the smallest viewership ever, down from its highest ever of 55.25 million in 1998.

The declining trend of viewership of the Oscars has been in lockstep with the rising virtue-signalling speeches of the winners.

The Oscars were bereft of a host this year after the 2019 host, comedian Kevin Hart, was forced to withdraw thanks to the discovery of some tweets of his from, yes, 2009 and his refusal to apologise for them, that offended the sensibilities of the 8000+ members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

With the rise of social media, changing demographics around the world and a pervasive woke culture, the activist as a celebrity, or the other way round, has gained immense cachet.

Just look at a Malala Yousufzai, a Greta Thunberg, or at Goldman Sachs’ David Solomon to an Oscar winner. The latter has been at the forefront of publicly promoting their personal political views on gender, minority and racial discrimination to sexual harassment to climate change to human, indigenous peoples’ and animal rights to vague notions of freedom and world peace.

Joaquin Phoenix, the best actor winner for his terrific portrayal as Joker, even admonished all for “taking a cow’s milk and putting it in our milk and cereal”. He is, unsurprisingly, a vegan and a member of PETA.

Natalie Portman, a former Oscar winner, showed up in a cape with the names of women who weren’t nominated for the Best Director Oscar written on it.

The cape that received due publicity was made by Dior, which stands accused of being less than conscious in its treatment of textile waste, hazardous chemicals and sourcing of production from countries with dodgy records on payments for child labour.

There was also Kaitlyn Dever in, according to the Hollywood Reporter, “a sustainable fashion statement at the Oscars in a custom-made ethical gown by Louis Vuitton, featuring eco-responsible silk satin that was embroidered with Swarovski crystals and beads”.

No one asked for the elaboration of the adjectives that described the gown and the silk satin. The proclamation alone was important. “We have gathered on the ancestral lands of the Tongva, Tataviam and the Chumash,” proclaimed Taiki Waititi, the first person of Maori descent to win an Oscar for screenplay.

The late George C Scott’s distaste for the Oscars was seen first in 1962 when he refused his nomination for Best Supporting Actor for The Hustler and then again a second time in 1971, though he ended up winning, for his role in and as Patton.

He famously called the Oscars “a two-hour meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons.”

In 1973, Marlon Brando became the first actor to refuse the Oscars (he won the Best Actor for The Godfather) for political reasons namely, the treatment of American Indians.

He sent a woman, Sacheen Littlefeather, in an American Indian outfit to go on stage to reject the award; Roger Moore, the host, took home the award until it was reclaimed by the Academy some years later!

In 1978, left-winger Vanessa Redgrave’s speech as an Oscar winner “on the small bunch of Zionist hoodlums” who protested her film on Palestine led to enormous controversy.

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That Hollywood pays homage to economics, rhetoric notwithstanding, over all else, is yet to be disproven.

It’s become almost routine for Hollywood producers to scrub scripts of anything that might offend thin-skinned Chinese censors and prevent a film from showing in lucrative Chinese theaters, reports The Atlantic.

The #MeToo movement exploded on social media in 2017 when the powerful producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment by actress Rose McGowan who had settled a case with him in 1997. “Ladies of Hollywood, where are you?” she wrote on Twitter. “Ladies of Hollywood, your silence is deafening” even as she accused Meryl Streep of remaining silent.

Stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have admitted to knowing that Weinstein sexually harassed actress Gwyneth Paltrow while they were working on the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley, produced by Weinstein's former film company, Miramax. Neither actor intervened.

While there has been widespread awareness and social media activism generated about the despicable behaviour by the likes of Weinstein, the jury is still out if there has indeed been any real change on the ground.

The Weinstein case is in trial now in New York, but “it is rare to prosecute such cases, according to police officials, defense lawyers and victim advocates across the country” according to the New York Times.

It is rich when sanctimonious, politically correct and self-righteous moral grandstanding with questionable sincerity by Hollywood celebrities becomes a substitute for diligent efforts for change based on facts, evidence and logic.

There is no gainsaying that the issues of discrimination, diversity, harassment, rights and sustainability are critically important ones but need to be understood and solutions thought through before passing snarky or politically correct and devoid-of-substance social media-friendly memes. Else, the danger of trivialising important issues, getting manipulated and becoming ephemeral heroes can be dangerous for the causes being championed.

Malala Yousafzai, a millionaire today who was admitted to Oxford, charges $152,000 per speech compared to $85,000 by fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Or, compare the achievements of Om Prakash Gujjar the winner of the 2006 International Children’s Peace Prize with 2019 winner Greta Thunberg’s to understand the difference.

Deserving issues or films or performers or artists get overlooked when diversity, inclusion or rights become overwhelming causes for self-styled concerned stars- turned-activists. The 2020 Oscar for Best Director and Best Film to the Tarantino-esque South Korean film on class Parasite, it could be argued, fell into this trap.

Ricky Gervais, the host of the recent Golden Globes, was at his acerbic best when he said,

Apple roared into the TV game with The Morning Show, a superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China.

But then, as Atlantic here says, Gervais went on to tear into the folks in the room:

Well, you say you’re woke, but the companies you work for [run sweatshops] in China— unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you? So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.

Using the Oscars as a protest venue or for pushing one’s political beliefs, however empty or profound, isn’t helpful outside of social media.

Viewers want to see their favourite stars in expensive couture doing and saying things they are best known for rather than promoting themselves as concerned activists.

Paddy Chayefsky, the only person to have won three solo Oscars for screenplay, commented after Vanessa Redgrave’s winner’s speech in 1978: “I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation and a simple ‘Thank you’ would’ve sufficed”

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