When you win an Oscar, you’ve got the attention of almost 40 million people from across the country watching you speak. That’s a pretty big, built-in soapbox by anyone’s standards. So isn’t it curious that at this year’s Academy Awards, only one winner used the opportunity to share his political views or make a bold statement? During Sunday’s show, the only real political commentary we heard came from Charles Ferguson, the director of Inside Job, the Best Documentary winter that skillfully broke down the 2008 financial crisis. In his acceptance speech, he condemned the Wall Street executives he covered in his film, saying:
Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.
Oscar night generally sees more than a few messages of political frustration or inspiration during the acceptance speeches. Some of the most famous expressions stirred up a good deal of buzz in the days that followed the ceremony.
In 2009, the folks behind Milk used their speeches to bring attention to the gay rights movement. Best Actor winner Sean Penn specifically referenced the marriage-banning power of Proposition 8 in California, and Best Original Screenplay winter Dustin Lance Black spoke directly to young people watching from home. He told them:
Very soon I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.
And who could forget Michael Moore’s 2002 speech after winning Best Documentary for Bowling for Columbine? He said:
We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons … Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you.
Maybe political statements during acceptance speeches are tacky, or maybe they dampen the mood of the ritziest night in Hollywood. But I appreciate them and the connections they strengthen between the technical wonder of a film and the passionate message behind it.
This year’s ceremony just didn’t have that politically charged feel. Maybe it’s because the slate of movies that got the nods just weren’t that politically charged in general. Most were very tightly focused character stories with little broader significance—The King’s Speech spoke to stuttering, The Fighter was a “comeback kid” tale with a bizarre family background, The Social Network was a way for us to spend even more time talking about Facebook.
Nominees in recent years have tackled psychological and physical abuse by parents (Precious); post-traumatic stress disorder in Iraq (The Hurt Locker); pervasive racism (Crash); the evils of the diamond trade (Blood Diamond) and coming out of the closet in near-impossible situations (Brokeback Mountain). But this year’s movies were less about social and political issues and more about general themes: revenge and redemption (True Grit), dealing with ambition (Black Swan), and learning to deal with your own obsolescence (Toy Story 3). That’s not a bad thing—it just didn’t lend itself to a ton of water cooler moments.
At least we still have an accidental F-bomb from Melissa Leo to talk about.