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How Political Can We Expect the 2018 Oscars To Be?

Two FASHION staffers discuss what might go down this Sunday night

The ranks here at FASHION are not filled with men. Shocking, right? But there are one or two (there are actually, literally, two). Naturally, when a question about male/female dynamics arises it’s only fair that one of them stand in for the members of his gender and provide some insight. Our last topic of conversation was the tweet from Canada’s former PM Kim Campbell about why women on television news shouldn’t wear sleeveless dresses, and today we’re discussing the likelihood of woke political moments at the first Oscars of the #MeToo era. Two of our staffers—from the men’s corner, Greg Hudson, and from the women’s, Pahull Bains—talk it out.

GH: This weekend, it’s the Oscars. It’s basically Christmas for culture critics (I’ve decided to call us that, because it is both self-important and alliterative). This year, though, things feel a little different. It’s not just that the ceremony is happening amidst some fraught socio-political times–that’s happened before. In fact, I remember how Tom Cruise (rocking some very subtle braces at the time) opened the Oscars that happened after 9/11 with a rousing speech, essentially justifying everyone’s presence and participation in what was, relative to the largest terrorist attack perpetrated on US soil, a pretty self-indulgent and audacious event. “And what about a night like tonight? Should we celebrate the magic that movies bring?” he asked, rhetorically. “Well, dare I say it, more than ever!” But this year, the controversy is coming from inside the house. It’s hard for the film industry to take a stand without looking a bit hypocritical. And that’s not just with regard to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. It’s also because of the Florida shooting and the increased pressure for gun control. While it’s been proven that there isn’t technically a link between consuming violent media and carrying out violent acts, films have certainly added to a culture that glorifies guns, making them that much harder to control. So, how should the Oscars handle themselves? What should we hope to see?

PB: With Jimmy Kimmel as host, I’m hoping for some pretty politically-aware and culturally significant moments, whether in his monologue, jokes or the presenters’ statements. But according to an interview with Jennifer Todd, one of the lead producers of the Academy Awards, in the New York Times, the Academy has other plans. “We want to make it as entertaining as possible — reverential and respectful but also fun and emotional,” she said. “The Oscars should be a spectacle. Fun and funny and great performances. It should also be a giant commercial for the movie business, which we all need to keep going.”

That’s about as on-the-nose as you can get. “A giant commercial for the movie business” basically means: “Hey Hollywood, stay in your lane. Talk movies, not movements.” But guys, this isn’t Jimmy Fallon hosting. It’s Kimmel. In this batshit-crazy Trump Era, he’s been on a mission. Vanity Fair has billed him as “a reluctant progressive hero,” the New York Times says “he eviscerated the latest Republican health care bill on his show,” and the Hollywood Reporter reported that “Jimmy Kimmel Live! is the only 11:35 p.m. telecast up by both key measures this season, with viewership up by nine percent and his showing among adults 18-49 up by four percent.”

Which is all a longwinded way for me to say—I don’t see this guy backing down. Not with such a major platform at his disposal. So despite what the Academy Award producers are hoping for, or trying to drive the evening’s agenda toward, my money’s still on Kimmel for delivering the wokest awards show of the season. (I mean, he’s been a guest at one of Pod Save America’s live shows which is just about as left-leaning as humanly possible.) Though the #metoo movement is still pretty front and center, the Weinstein whirlwind seems to have died down somewhat, so I’m expecting less Harvey jokes and more general commentary on the predatory nature of the industry. And you’re right—there’s definitely going to be something on gun control. Maybe even a surprise cameo by Emma Gonzalez of ‘We Call BS’ fame? (Fun fact: CNN recently reported that the Parkland student has more Twitter followers than the NRA. You go, girl.)

GH: I do think Kimmel is a good host for this moment. Until this year, he wasn’t really counted among the big Hollywood Liberals, and so his change toward politics has been kind of inspiring. His activism seems like it comes from a genuine place, and like he’d really rather not have to do anything. He agreed to host again before his political turn, so it’s lucky.

Still, part of me thinks it’s just as well if the Oscars didn’t wade into the political/social realm. Not because I wouldn’t agree with what they say, or because I think that actors, simply by dint of being actors, are disqualified from talking about real issues. But because it can so easily come off as crass and self-congratulatory–I mean, it’s an award show, so obviously it’s going to be self-congratulatory. But, you know what I mean. It’s hard to seem sincere about gender equality and gun control when you’re wearing a gown while you hand out little golden statues.

And while I have no doubt that most people at the Oscars are legitimately concerned about gender equality (especially the women) and keeping children safe (especially the parents), because the Internet’s outrage meter is so primed, speaking out for or against anything becomes a performance that will be adjudicated in real time. It’s like when you’re forced to read Slaughterhouse-Five in high school and so you hate it, even though it’s actually an awesome book and under normal circumstances you’d love it. If everyone presenting feels pressure to prove their woke-ness, even if they are legit woke, it will feel forced and hollow. Also, I never had to read Slaughterhouse-Five in high school. But I suppose something is better than nothing.

And yet, speaking of nothing: it also feels hollow because the industry wasn’t only the place where the MeToo movement kind of began–and thus a major part of the problem–but because it’s still doing that thing where it picks and chooses who should be punished based on…I don’t actually know what it’s based on. What I do know is that Gary Oldman is almost certainly going to win an Oscar for Best Actor, despite some shady (alleged) behaviour in his history. Truthfully, the attempt by some media organizations to bring up offensive things Oldman said felt a bit like courting controversy for the sake of the clicks, but the potential domestic violence is another story. Casey Affleck has wisely declined to attend because he knows he’s lucky he wasn’t nominated this year, when people would have taken the accusations of sexual harassment against him more seriously. And yet, they will be celebrating Gary Oldman. It kind of feels like the Entertainment Industry is too dirty to tell anyone to keep clean.

PB: Well, like you said, this time the call is coming from inside the building. So far from it coming off as hypocritical for actors to take a moral/social/political stand while accepting statuettes for their work in the industry, I see it as imperative. If people from within the industry aren’t going to try to address or fix its problems, why should anyone else care? And when it comes to issues outside of the industry, like gun control or sexual assault/abuse as a broader cultural problem (as opposed to a Hollywood problem), who better than celebrities with millions of followers and real, tangible clout to try to initiate change? The whole Gary-Oldman-being-celebrated thing is disappointing though. A step forward in one direction, and backward in another. But, well, I guess change never comes easy, or all at once.

By the way, I’m curious to see how celebrities navigate the Ryan Seacrest issue. He’s just been accused by his personal stylist of repeated sexual harassment, over a period of seven years, and while I completely agree with Kimmel, who said in an interview with Variety that “we should at the very least afford people the opportunity for truth,” this allegation will certainly make for a very interesting red carpet. Jennifer Lawrence, for one, seems to be pretty conflicted, saying on an interview with Howard Stern that she might just skip an interview with Seacrest at the Oscars, and that she “[doesn’t] know” quite what to conclude about the whole issue. I wonder if either E! or Seacrest will release any sort of statement ahead of the ceremony, or if he’ll address it at all on camera. Either way, he’s definitely going to be on tenterhooks throughout, probably terrified of another viral Debra-Messing-calling-out-E-on-E moment.

GH: That has the making of a very awkward red carpet. Though, I suppose, after decades of asking actresses inane questions that put them on the spot, it’s a bit satisfying that they might get to ask Seacrest difficult questions. I think, if I were him I’d sit the red carpet out, maybe be one of the people keeping things moving in the studio. But then, I’ve covered one red carpet in my life (and technically it was actually pink) and I’d look for any excuse to get out of it if I was supposed to do it again.

Also speaking of Seacrest: have you noticed that of the men who have been accused, the ones with lone accusers have stayed in the news cycle for the shortest period of time? It’s obvious that the more victims there are, the more clearly a pattern is established, and the bigger the news story will be. It’s easy to ignore one voice. And so I could totally see Seacrest just hoping this story will be smothered by Oscar stuff. But also, so often pundits talk about how dangerous this climate of accusation is for poor, wrongly accused men, but as the movement has chugged along, it seems like the court of public opinion has started to maybe work? While believing those who come forward should be the default reaction, the baseless witch hunt hasn’t really materialized. It’s like we naturally kind of expect good reportage before we completely tear down a career. That might be hard for some victims who don’t have access to a New York Times reporter, but it’s kind of a fair check against what some people (and all of France) worried would be end of men in general.

Final question: How long do you think it will take for some studio to make a film about the whole #MeToo movement? It’ll be like Spotlight, only with more celebs. Actually, maybe it’s more of a TV thing. It’s hard for movie stars to play other movie stars. Although, I feel like Anne Hathaway could play a pretty mean Rose McGowan.

PB: Oh it’s going to happen. But we’re still right in the eye of the storm, so I don’t know what that movie would even be. Not enough has happened yet, so would it just be a never-ending reel of young, beautiful actresses being sent up to Harvey Weinstein’s room? (Yikes.) How would it even end? I guess we’ve got to live through a bit more of it to have a complete story to tell. Legit question though—which studio would back it?! It would probably have to be a totally aboveboard, no-skeletons-in-our-closet, wholly-female-led production. Paging Reese Witherspoon’s company

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