America may be deeply divided, but politics and the culture wars will not be center stage at this year’s Oscars if the organizers have their way.
“We’re not interested in distractions or partisan debate, we’re interested in Tom Cruise,” a 95th Academy Awards ceremony insider says of this weekend’s superstar and blockbuster rich show.
“We want to embrace the diversity of talent and nominees this year, and we want to try to go back to the days of escapism,” an AMPAS source adds of the dual ethos of the 2023 Jimmy Kimmel hosted shindig. Escapism may be a hard sell with Netflix’s anti-war film All Quiet On The Western Front on the ballot for Best Picture and other categories, but the Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss produced broadcast is aiming to stay primarily politically agnostic and controversary free, we hear.
Officially, the Academy had no comment on the role politics may or not may not play in this year’s Oscars.
However, despite a full-court press by some industry heavyweights, the fact is the ABC-broadcast show will once again be one of the few awards shows not to feature an appearance by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Russia’s invasion of his country. Oscar vet Joe Biden will not be dropping by either, even though he will be in Southern California early next week.
Coming off the fiasco of last year’s on-stage slapping of Chris Rock by Best Actor winner and now ex-AMPAS member Will Smith, the Academy and the producers intend to run a tight movie-centric ship this weekend. Or as one well positioned participant put it: “Things got f*cked up last year, didn’t they? This year we want to keep our eyes on the prize, literally.”
The shocking slap heard around the world aside, that’s a departure from most of the past few years when outrage and scorn over Donald Trump often got more airtime than the nominees and winners at the Oscars and almost every other award show. In terms of host Kimmel, with about 35 hours to go before the Oscars begin, the forthright late night front man is still fine tuning his opening monologue. However, unless events between now and then demand it, Kimmel’s opening bit is said to feature only fleeting political references.
From the dark depths of the Vietnam War era to Michael Moore’s victory speeches to the Trump days, the Oscars have for decades wrestled with the ceremony’s veering into polarizing topics. As Blue as Hollywood is publicly and as Red as Tinseltown can be behind closed doors, those unscripted strident on-stage remarks over the years have mainly come from presenters and winners taking advantage of the global platform the show still retains. Beyond the direct control of the network and the producers, with walk-off music often as the only stifling resort, constant political statements by stars have earned the Oscars and Hollywood ridicule and rejection from conservative America.
Over the past decade alone, there have been Oscars when the activism has been more of a feature than a bug.
Joe Biden presented at the Oscars when he was vice president, as his office seized on the 88th Academy Awards in 2016 as an opportunity to talk about campus sexual abuse prevention and introduce Lady Gaga. Three years earlier, First Lady Michelle Obama presented Best Picture, after she and her husband hosted several topical Oscar contenders for White House events.
During the years when Trump was in office, the then-president himself went out of his way to tar the ceremony as irrelevant amid declining ratings, digs certainly aimed at Hollywood’s leftward tilt. Leaning into his MAGA policies at a 2020 campaign rally, Trump directly blasted the Best Picture-winner, Parasite, in part because it came from South Korea.
This year, even though First Lady Jill Biden appeared at the Grammys last month, her husband will almost certainly not be making a return appearance at the Academy Awards, bi-coastal sources say, even though Biden will be close by. The day after Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, the president is scheduled to travel to San Diego to meet with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. On Tuesday, President Biden will travel to Monterey Park, the site of a mass shooting earlier this year, to talk about efforts to reduce gun violence. Leaving the City of Angels, POTUS will then travel go to Sin City itself, Las Vegas.
Even without a president or two in the Dolby Theatre, this year’s show is under no illusion that it can dispel that partisan perception in one night. With big hits Top Gun: Maverick, Elvis and Avatar: The Way of Water competing with All Quiet on the Western Front and Everything Everywhere All At Once in top categories, the practical hope is that Red State America and Hollywood itself will pick up on the changing timbre of the Oscars.
“Telling A-list talent not to do something is almost a guarantee they will do it, right?” the ceremony insider states, emphasizing there has been no directive on what presenters and winners can and can’t say. “But, (we) hope everyone recognizes and respects the tone we are trying to establish this year.”