Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives awards for achievement in film—but who gives awards for the winners’ heartfelt (and sometimes tin-eared) political monologues at the Kodiak Theater? We do!
In the spirit of this awards season’s extra-political tone—humanitarian crises and Donald Trump jokes have featured in acceptance speeches at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and Writers’ Guild Awards, to name a few—the Culture Pages will be honoring the best, worst, and bravest of the lot at this year’s top prize-giving ceremony. During the Academy Awards this Sunday at 5:30 p.m. PST, our writers and editors will be judging all political remarks, assessing them based on content and delivery: Which Trump reference was sliest? Which mention of geopolitics most inflammatory? Which celebrity in the audience provided the most meme-able reaction?
Honorees will receive two prizes: One, they will receive a shout-out within our online magazine and, two, they will be contacted via Twitter/Facebook/any means necessary to receive a free year-long subscription to Pacific Standard. Best luck in advance to all competitors.
Last week, Oscars telecast producer Michael De Luca told the New York Times that he welcomed political dialogue at the ceremony. “Winners have the right to express themselves,” he told reporter Brooks Barnes. We couldn’t agree more, and we’ll be watching as the night’s stars alternately distinguish and embarrass themselves.
Honors the coyest allusion to a political or social issue. Extra points will be awarded if the speaker devotes most of their allotted speaking time to these pointed (but—crucially—unnamed) concerns and/or does not thank the usual parties. Points will be deducted for the use of tired ceremonial phrases or adjectives—“uncertain times,” “urgent,” etc.
The Original Fonda: “There’s a great deal to say but I’m not going to say it tonight,” Jane Fonda said in her brief 1972 speech accepting the Best Actress Oscar for Klute. Later, she told reporters she was referring to United States’ foreign policy in Southeast Asia—in her words, “the murders being committed in our name in Indochina.”
Former Qualifiers: Hugh Laurie, 2017 Golden Globes (The Night Manager); Byron Howard, 2017 Golden Globes (Zootopia); Meryl Streep, 2017 Golden Globes (Cecil B. DeMille Award); Nina Jacobson, 2017 Golden Globes (People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story); Mahershala Ali, 2017 SAG Awards (Moonlight); Emma Stone, 2017 SAG Awards (La La Land); Errol Morris, 2004 Academy Awards (The Fog of War).
Celebrates the use of a proxy speaker to make a political statement. The judges will turn an especially favorable eye to speeches delivered by a speaker not involved in the production and/ora symbolically significant speaker.
The Original Brando: In 1973, Brando sent actress and Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to decline his Best Actor Award for The Godfather due to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry… and on television in movie reruns.”
Former Qualifiers: George C. Scott, 1970 Academy Awards (Patton).
Is bestowed upon a super-inflammatory stand on international politics taken during the ceremony. Exceptional entrants in this category will elicit glazed-over expressions from audience and slack jaws and/or audible boos, alongside scattered and halfhearted applause.
The Original Redgrave: Upon receiving her 1978 Best Actress Award for Julia, Vanessa Redgrave addressed the Jewish Defense League picketers protesting her outside the theater (Redgrave had narrated and helped to fund a pro-Palestine documentary). “I think you should be very proud… you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world,” she told the crowd.
Honors an extra-salient example of a presenter ignoring the teleprompter to make an issues-driven statement.
The Original Sarandon-Robbins: At 1993’s Academy Awards, Best Film Editing presenters Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins also introduced the topic of refugees. “In the spirit of the red ribbons being held here, we’d like to call attention to 250 Haitians (being quarantined in Cuba)… their crime, testing positive for the HIV virus,” Robbins said, after which Sarandon asked the U.S. government to open its borders to those refugees.
Is bestowed upon a speech celebrating a significant moment for diverse representation at the ceremony. Tears and Oscar-pumping will be viewed especially favorably in this category.
The Original Berry: Accepting her 2002 Best Actress Award for Monster’s Ball, the first for a black actress, Berry dedicated the award to previous black actresses and “every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
Former Qualifiers: Viola Davis, 2015 Emmy Awards (How to Get Away With Murder).
Celebrates a scorching opinion on domestic politics expressed during the ceremony. Not a Moore unless the topic is a.) judged unpopular at the Dolby Theatre and/or b.) introduced in a way that throws shade at large segments of the populace. As with the Redgrave, you don’t qualify if you don’t piss off a vocal portion of the audience in the theater.
The Original Moore: After winning 2003’s Best Documentary for Bowling for Columbine, Moore said that non-fiction mattered more than ever because “We live in time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons.” As the members of the crowd audibly booed and jeered, Moore continued, undeterred, “Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you.”
Former Qualifiers: Sean Penn, 2009 Academy Awards (Milk).
The O’Barry/The Irving
Honors a conspicuous shout-out to a specific rights or awareness campaign during an awards or presentation speech. Note: Qualifies as an O’Barry if a telephone number or website is included. If not, it will be labeled an Irving.
The Original O’Barry: When The Cove, an exposé-like film about dolphin hunting in Japan, won Best Documentary in 2010, the film’s star Ric O’Barry, held up a sign bearing the message “Text Dolphin to 44144” behind the speakers accepting the award. The telecast cut the music and the cameras cut away before film’s director could make his speech. “The Academy panicked,” the Huffington Post later explained.
The Original Irving: Accepting Best Adapted Screenplay in 1999 for Cider House Rules, John Irving thanked Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights League alongside his studio, family, producer, and director.
Former Qualifiers: Sarah Paulson, 2017 SAG Awards (The People v. OJ Simpson).
Recognizes a narcissistic speech delivered by a contributor to a film celebrated for its political message.
The Original Leto: Jared Leto dedicated the first half of his speech accepting the Best Supporting Actor at the 2014 Golden Globes to the physical transformation required to play a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club—“the bubble butt was all mine,” he joked, before assuring the audience he didn’t have to get a Brazilian wax. Slate’s Bryan Lowder later called the remarks “tone-deaf” given his film’s serious examination of the transgender experience.
Former Qualifiers: Sally Field, 1985 Academy Awards (Places in the Heart).
Is bestowed upon an attempt at progressivism that backfires brutally. Special attention will be paid to speeches that champion one minority group while entirely glossing over or dismissing another—or several others.
The Original Arquette: During an awards speech that argued for equal pay for women following her 2015 Best Actress win for Boyhood, Arquette said, “It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” As some later pointedout on social media and in publications, Arquette’s remarks didn’t make much space for queer women and women of color, and the fights for LGBT rights and rights for people of color are not yet over.
Former Qualifiers: Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett, 2010 Academy Awards (Music by Prudence). (Note: In this case, the award is shared. Burkett, who co-produced with director Williams, interrupted Williams as he was making his speech, later claiming it was typical of men to try and speak first. But hey, Williams was the first black director to win Best Documentary Short Subject.)
Nods to an especially enthusiastic audience member’s reaction to an issue-driven speech. Extra points if memed and spread on Twitter, and on day-after news round-ups.
The Original Streep:
Former Qualifiers: Chris Pine, 2015 Academy Awards (reacting to Common and John Legend’s Best Song speech for their “Glory” song in Selma—“Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now,” Legend said.) It’s hard to top a crying Chris Pine or finger-pointing Meryl Streep—but maybe this year’s nominees have it in them to try.