People will inevitably complain about political grandstanding at the Oscars. However, this time it seems not only inevitable, but necessary. The world faces a threat of stifling an independent nation, as well as the whole notion of freedom of expression. If you are in the business of artistic creation of any kind, you must be prepared to defend this right. And artists certainly have, at least in recent years. The politics of AIDS, prisoners in the Guantanamo camp, unequal pay between men and women and the long repression of black Americans have all inspired commentary from the stage at the Oscars.
But stars haven’t always been so quick to speak up on issues like these. Hollywood has come a long way since the days before the 1960s, when it was often not considered the best career move for stars to pound their chests about their favorite cause.
But the films and the aura around them were very different back then. The stars were rarely seen in person. They didn’t hit late night shows to pump up their movies. The cinematic experience was truly an escape from the real world, a trip to an air-conditioned refuge surrounded by people eating popcorn and passing out in front of Gable or Garbo.
Hollywood has changed a lot since then – obviously. And taking a stand is now seen as what public figures not only can do, but in many cases should do. If a major event dominates the news, you’re sure to see an outspoken Hollywood star quoting it, denouncing it, and demanding that it receive more attention.
As an audience, we have also changed a lot; and not just because we now watch most movies on a flat screen in the den. It’s clearly much harder to play pretend when tyranny takes the lives of innocent people, even children, and threatens to take others. And when we can see it playing on the screens in our homes every night.
So this year, anyone wearing a stunning dress or flashy tuxedo wants to voice the outrage that so many Americans (and people around the world) feel, they should raise their well-trained voices. It’s the biggest platform an artist is likely to ever have. And this group knows how to use a projector.