LOS ANGELES –The 89th Academy Awards show promises to be equal parts pomp and politics.
The only thing expected to take the stage more often than the frothy front-runner “La La Land” at Sunday’s ceremony is protest (and probably some punchlines) over the policies of President Donald Trump. For largely liberal Hollywood, his election has proven a rallying cause-celebre throughout an awards season that has otherwise been a parade of honours for Damien Chazelle’s celebrated musical.
Just how political things are going to get at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles may be the biggest question of Sunday night’s show, to be broadcast by ABC beginning at 8:30 p.m. EST, with red carpet coverage starting earlier. The current forecast for Sunday is only a slight chance of rain, though the inside of the Dolby Theatre is expected to be far stormier.
Even the usually glitzy lead-up to Sunday’s show has taken on the form of a gathering tempest. On Friday, the United Talent Agency, forgoing its usual Oscar party, instead held a rally over immigration. “We will not tolerate chaos and ineptitude and war-mongering,” Jodie Foster told attendees.
More strikingly, the six directors of the foreign film nominees on Friday released a joint statement condemning “the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S. and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians.”
The signees included the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose “The Salesman” is favoured to win him his second foreign language Oscar. He isn’t attending the awards out of protest for Trump’s proposed travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim nations, including Iran.
On Friday, he posted a video thanking the Hollywood community for its support of his Oscar boycott. In it, Farhadi condemned Trump’s policies and said they are “trying to promote hate.”
And sure to stoke the rhetoric at Sunday’s Oscars is news this weekend that U.S. immigration authorities are barring entry to a 21-year-old Syrian cinematographer who worked on the documentary short nominee “The White Helmets,” about the nation’s civil war.
Meanwhile, about 20 Trump supporters gathered Saturday at an intersection near the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. One held a sign with Trump’s signature slogan, “Make America Great Again,” while another sign asked motorists to honk if they supported Trump. There were few honks.
Some Trump supporters are calling for a boycott of the broadcast, expecting more speeches like Meryl Streep’s fiery remarks at the Globes – which prompted Trump to call her “overrated.” (The Academy of Motion Pictures on Friday added Streep, also a nominee, to its presenters.) But similar so-called boycotts have also trailed the Broadway sensation “Hamilton” and 2016’s top box-office hit, the “Star Wars” spinoff “Rogue One.”
ABC would be very happy with similar results, especially after last year’s telecast, hosted by Chris Rock, drew 34.4 million viewers, an eight-year low. Ads this year are still going for $2.1 million for 30-second spots.
Host Jimmy Kimmel will have a delicate balance on his hands. Play it too light and he’ll appear out of sync with the mood. Hammer too hard and he’ll alienate viewers already inundated by politics.
A lot of the suspense has been deflated by the juggernaut of “La La Land,” the Golden Globe winner and favourite to win best picture. It’s up for 14 awards, tying it with “Titanic” and “All About Eve” for the record.
Rock’s 2016 show, which he introduced as “the White People’s Choice Awards,” was rife with Hollywood’s diversity debate. But after two straight years of all-white acting nominees and the resulting “OscarsSoWhite” rancour, this year’s field is teaming with African-American actors and filmmakers, thanks to films like best-picture candidates Barry Jenkin’s coming-of-age tale “Moonlight,” Denzel Washington’s August Wilson adaptation “Fences” and Theodore Melfi’s uplifting space-race drama “Hidden Figures.”
For the first time, an actor of colour is nominated in each acting category. A record six black actors are nominated. Four of the five films nominated for best documentary were made by black filmmakers. Bradford Young (“Arrival”) is the second black cinematographer ever nominated. Kimberly Steward, the financer of “Manchester by the Sea,” is the second black female producer nominated for best picture.
The nominees follow the efforts by Academy of Motions Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs to diversify the membership of the largely white, older and male film academy. In June, the academy added 683 new members: 46 per cent of them were female; 41-per cent were nonwhite; and they pulled from 59 countries.
There is other turmoil, too. Only one major studio – Paramount, which distributed “Arrival” and “Fences” – scored a best picture nod this year – and its chief, Brad Grey, departed last week. Amazon, on the other hand, scored its first best-picture nomination with “Manchester by the Sea.”