Why politics in Hollywood need to change

Garrett Cook

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As someone who cares deeply about important issues around the world, I love seeing those ideas get the attention they deserve. But, as someone who loves film, it’s also hard for me to see movies go unappreciated at the awards shows created to honor them. When important issues are crammed into 45-second awards acceptance speeches that are unrelated to the films topic, they aren’t heard by enough people to make an impact.

Over-politicizing awards shows has taken away from honoring film, but there is a way to change that. Balancing politics and movies at the shows can spread awareness about current issues, while also giving films the recognition and respect they deserve.

Part of finding that balance is knowing the right time to make a political comment. At this year’s Golden Globe Awards, Natalie Portman proved that bad timing can hurt some major film achievements. Before announcing the nominees for Best Director in a Motion Picture, Portman commented that all the nominees were male. The lack of female directors in Hollywood is a very important issue, but that was not the right time to address the problem. Her comment took away from the accomplishments of  those directors. The directors were nominated for a reason and Portman’s comment unjustly gave them the feeling of responsibility for one of Hollywood’s wrongdoings.

As the camera panned to each of the nominees’ faces, they looked ashamed. Instead, they should have been thrilled for being recognized for their amazing work. Hollywood needs to change, but statements like that aren’t going to help make a real impact.

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Illustration by Eileen Bettinger

Hollywood has had a long history of political speeches at awards shows, but have they made an impact?

Valerie R. O’Reagan, an associate professor of Political Science at California State University, compiled research on how much of an impact celebrities have on political decisions made by young people. The study, conducted in 2012, administered a questionnaire to college students asking questions about how much celebrities may influence the students political decisions. When asked about the individual or individuals young people trust the most when it comes to endorsements of political candidates and issues, only 1.64 percent said they trusted celebrities the most.

At the 1973 Oscars ceremony, Marlon Brando declined his Best Actor award for “The Godfather” by sending Sacheen Littlefeather up to the podium to protest the treatment of Native Americans by the film industry. “The Godfather” does not deal with this issue in the film so it confused audiences why Brando was protesting the issue at an awards show. According to Variety Magazine, the act just played out as a “convoluted act of celebrity narcissism.” Few took away any real meaning from the speech, and it had no lasting impact on audiences.

I think there is a place in the show where this kind of statement really can make a difference, but not the Marlon Brando way. If a director has just won an award for their work on a documentary about the treatment of animals in Seaworld, and uses his or her  45 seconds under the spotlight to talk about the treatment of animals, it is appropriate and adds to the film’s original message. But when someone has won a major award for their performance in a movie that has nothing to do with an issue, and uses their time to talk about something like climate change, it seems like the actor is uneducated and doesn’t know what they are talking about.

There should be a time in Hollywood awards shows where the stars can make speeches and talk about issues they care about. The time would give the stars more than 45 seconds, so they can really make a difference. That way the important politics can still be recognized and the movies can still be fully honored. 

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How much do celebrities influence people?

The Academy Awards and other shows can be the perfect place to bring awareness to issues. Millions of Americans watch these shows every year and if someone makes a truly meaningful speech and has enough time to do it, real change can happen. Hollywood A-listers can be some of the most influential people in pop culture, so why not work with them to help educate America?

If a balance can be struck between movies and politics some groundbreaking achievements can happen. As Kerry Washington famously said at last year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG), “A lot of people are saying right now that actors should not express their opinions when it comes to politics, but the truth is actors are activists no matter what because we embody the worth and humanity of all people.”