Sunday night’s Academy Awards show contained virtually no America-bashing. There were no calls to protect our democracy from fascists within, no stark warnings about warmongers leading our children to death on the battlefield, and no scolding American society for its mistreatment of disenfranchised peoples. Aside from the politics behind the picking of winners and losers, this wasn’t much of a political event at all. For once, we were spared the lessons and the marching orders, and permitted to watch a silly award show with the hope of simply enjoying it.
How did that happen?
There are two related causes here. First, a Democrat occupies the White House. It’s no secret that Hollywood is majority liberal and serves as the chief cultural conduit for progressive ideas wending their way into the mainstream. Universities indoctrinate the young and self-righteous; show business comes for the rest of us. When the president is a Republican, Hollywood takes it as an aesthetic felony and an intolerable insult to its dominance. How could the country that the industry tries so hard to elevate with obviously noble ideas be so dense and so unappreciative of all its selfless work? Clearly, audiences need a talking to.
So, for example, during the 2019 Oscars, when Donald Trump was president, Spike Lee, in his acceptance speech for best adapted screenplay gave a lesson on the slave trade and the country’s “genocide of its native people.” And he closed with this: “The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing!” That same year, Javier Bardem took a shot at Trump’s border policy while introducing the best foreign language film category, saying, “There are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity and talent.”
These speeches amplify the liberal causes of the moment. It’s hard to envision an Oscar show today in which a winner takes the stage and gives a MAGA rant. Imagine a filmmaker saying, “We have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons.” But that’s precisely what Michael Moore said in 2003, when he accepted his best documentary Oscar. Only he closed with, “Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you.”
When a Democrat is president, however, all is well in La La Land. It doesn’t matter whether, say, the crisis on America’s southern border is worse than it’s ever been. It’s really not worth mentioning. And railing against “fictitious election results” is obviously verboten (for now). Everyone can relax and have a good time, you see, because the country is, generally speaking, “on the right side of history.” The good works of filmmakers are being taken to heart and America, as a result, is on its best behavior.
But—and here’s the second reason for our politics-free evening—no one in Hollywood likes the current Democratic president, Joe Biden, enough to be triumphalist about it. For example, on Sunday night’s broadcast, we didn’t see, as we did in 2013, the beloved first lady appear in a ballgown on a giant screen to announce the best picture category. And this isn’t only because Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood’s former chief liaison to the White House, is behind bars for rape and sexual misconduct. It’s because there is no beloved first lady. Yes, Joe and Jill Biden are Democrats, and they require some defending here and there. But no one really wants to get into the weeds on his record or, more important in Los Angeles, his daily performance. Barack and Michelle Obama, on the other hand, were the gleaming, cinematic king and queen of liberal America and the darlings of show business. Which explains why, after leaving the White House, they transformed seamlessly into movie producers.
The point is that we’re hovering in a cultural Goldilocks zone. At least as it pertains to the entertainment industry. Our moral instructors in Hollywood are pacified enough to refrain from correcting our failings. Yet, they’re not exactly filled with the kind of victorious exuberance that makes them want to rub it in. Which made for a perfectly delightful Oscar show.
Except for the fact that Everything Everywhere All at Once is a terrible movie and shouldn’t have won anything.