When Shallowness Enables Depth: The Oscars as a Scenario for Socio-Political Protest

Curator's Note

Originally created as an event to provide prestige and consolidate the hegemony of the American film industry around the world, the Academy Awards ceremony may be considered one of the shallowest media events; a parade of Hollywood luminaries displaying the most expensive creations of outrageously expensive high-end fashion brands. The controversy around this years’ nominations spread throughout the web using #oscarsowhite, triggering debates around the lack of diversity among the nominees. In 2015, questions of gender equality where set under the limelight through Reese Whiterspoon’s #AskHerMore and Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech. Clearly, these events speak for a deeper problematic than merely what happens to Hollywood stars regarding gender inequality and racial segregation. In fact, the high level of engagement around these topics speaks about a deeper problematic within American society for which what happens in Hollywood serves as the means for agenda setting. From a historical standpoint, the Oscars have been the chosen scenario for political manifestations many times before. In 1992, 11 persons were arrested in an LGBT demonstration that gathered 300 people in front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, protesting “the absence of positive gay characters in films” (Daily Variety, 1992, March 31). Two smaller protests took place that same year. A religious group chanting “Hollywood repent,” and “Jesus loves sinners,” and a group of “African-Americans protesting Oscar’s snub of black and rap music.” In 1979, 13 persons were arrested after a riot against the police in a “Vietnam veterans against the war” protest. (Daily Variety, v.183, n. 26). The previous year, Vanessa Redgrave raised her voice for Palestina while accepting her award for best supporting actress. (Daily Variety, v. 179, n. 22), while members of the Jewish Defense leave protested against her nomination. And the list goes on. Therefore, it is worth asking: why does the Academy Award ceremony serve as a platform for political engagement? The question is almost rhetorical, and its answer certainly pinpoints at the show’s international reach. After 88 editions, the Academy Awards ceremony remains the moment where all eyes are set on one event, raising awareness about the “flaws” of the so-called American dream.


This post and the examples you bring up from Oscar history (as well as all the posts so far this week) demonstrate the salience of the Oscar "stage" as one of the most potent sites for political intervention in popular culture. Yes, for the most part these shows are a trailer for Hollywood hegemony, but it makes those breaks in the program all the more relevant. I am glad you pointed out all the backstage politics too. I had never seen the program where you got your clip from. I have done some research on AIDS protests outside and inside the Oscars in the early 90s, the prevalence of the red ribbon, and Hollywood's "response" with Philadelphia. It is really fascinating how there is a dialog between the dominant Hollywood culture and marginalized voices - even before the feedback channels of social media - but they've been mostly invisible from the broadcasts.

This is such a fresh way to think about the interaction between celebrities and civilians! I wonder if one of the reasons the awards offer a stage for protest is because it's an event that is very spatially and temporally defined? It's a relatively safe, controlled environment. Protesters are perhaps likely to receive television coverage, but the possibility of the protest getting out of hand is small. Maybe one of the questions to add here is whether or not political protests at the Oscars are effective? It doesn't seem like #OscarsSoWhite or the #Askhermore campaigns have had much traction since the awards ended, but perhaps others can speak to this question more.

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