Many media outlets are touting the 89th Academy Awards, set to air later on tonight, to be one of the most ‘political’ Oscar ceremonies in recent memory; if the previous award ceremonies this season are anything to go by, it’s very likely that Hollywood’s stars will be using their platforms to talk about one important political issue or another.And It’s easy to see why; 2016 was one of the most tumultuous years not only in ‘Western’ politics, but globally – Trump and Brexit happened, divisive politics swept across Europe, Brazil’s president was impeached, South Korea’s president was impeached, casualties in the Syrian Civil War reached nearly half a million with a further million displaced and forced to flee, Russia apparently influenced the US election, the civil war in South Sudan intensified, Trump proposed a Muslim ban, climate change records were broken, the Black Lives Matter movement truly went global – and for good reason – and fake news made headlines. And that’s just scratching the surface.
The reverberations of these things are still being felt in 2017, and many of these issues are still unresolved- many of these crises are still taking place. And regardless of whether you’re cynical about, or supportive of, celebrities when they take a stand at the podium, most will agree that there will undoubtedly be some speeches tonight that capture the attention. In anticipation then- if we can call it such- we’ve decided to look back at some of the most historic Oscar moments that had a decidedly political edge. Take a peek at the list before you dive into the ceremony tonight:
Sacheen Littlefeather refuses Brando’s Oscar
Marlon Brando won an Oscar in 1973 for his role in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Brando refused his prize however, and sent Apache and Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place. Sacheen’s appearance helped to draw attention to the then-ongoing siege at Wounded Knee as well as the historic mistreatment of Native American’s – including their general misrepresentation in the media. Brando had in fact written a 15-page speech for the occasion, but upon meeting Sacheen backstage the producer threatened to have her arrested or physically removed if she spoke for longer than 60 seconds. Sacheen eventually read the entire speech to the press afterwards, and the Oscar’s enacted a new policy of disallowing proxy acceptance in future ceremonies.
Common and Legend articulate an ongoing struggle
After winning the Oscar for best original song for ‘Glory’, John Legend and Common used their moment on stage to celebrate the past successes of the civil rights movement as well as to draw attention to the fact that that struggle for equality and justice is still on-going. Common’s impassioned comments on the symbolic value of the Edmund Pettus bridge and Legend’s powerful assertion that ‘Selma is now’ – a claim demonstrated by, amongst many other things, the prison industrial complex and the disproportionate incarceration of black men – was a striking example of how to do politics at the Oscars, and received a deserved round of applause.
Michael Moore talks of ‘fictitious times’
Michael Moore and Michael Donovan won the Oscar for best documentary feature at the 75th Academy Awards for their work on Bowling for Columbine. Upon reaching the microphone, after a few introductory comments, Moore launched into a scathing criticism of George Bush and the Iraq War – lambasting the ‘fictitious’ election that saw him take office as well as the ‘fictitious’ evidence that led the USA to war. Despite the mixed reception and the very noticeable boos, Moore’s speech would ultimately prove to be extremely prescient.
Jane Fonda’s silence speaks volumes
After winning the best actress award for Klute in 1972, Jane Fonda gave perhaps one of the most reserved, yet undeniably political acceptance speeches the Academy had seen to date. An outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, many might’ve expected Fonda to launch into a tirade about the injustice of the conflict; yet her restraint was arguably just as effective as any speech she could’ve delivered. After the ceremony, Fonda said to the press “I was thinking that, while we’re all sitting there giving out awards, which are very important awards, there are murders being committed in our name in Indochina…And I think everyone out there is aware of it as I am, and I think that everyone out there wants it to end as much as I do. And I didn’t think I needed to say it. I think we have had it. I really do. I think everyone feels that way. And I just didn’t think it needed to be said.”
Halle Berry’s Best Actress Speech
Halle Berry’s speech after winning best actress at the 74th Academy Awards is perhaps one of the most famous (and arguably divisive) Oscar moments in modern times. It was a monumental moment and understandably an emotional one, it being the first time a black actress had won the award in the history of the Oscars – and Berry is quick to note how it’s a moment that’s bigger than her. She dedicates the award to every “nameless and faceless” woman of colour that might now have the opportunity to walk through the door that had been opened on that night. Some argued she gave the Academy too much credit for being progressive (and 15 years later, Berry remains the only black actress to win this award), whilst others were moved by the emotion and historic nature of the moment. Regardless, it was the moment that everyone was speaking about, and few have forgotten.
Sean Penn, Milk and Prop 8
When Sean Penn scooped the Best Actor award for portraying American politician Harvey Milk – the first openly gay political to be elected to office – he decided to speak out against the homophobia (and the inhumanity) inherent in proposition 8; the proposal to make it illegal for same-sex couples to marry in California. After offering a few initial thanks to friends and family, Penn derides those who voted for the ban and suggests that they might reflect on their ‘shame’ and how they will be perceived by future generations.