As we head into Academy Awards weekend, it is unlikely that many in THIS audience will be tuning in—in fact, even amongst long time Hollywood and award show watchers, ratings have been steadily decreasing in recent years. It could have something to do with Hollywood’s ever growing foray into the political arena. Or maybe we just don’t care who anyone is wearing anymore.
If you DO plan to tune in this weekend, you’ll likely see a lot of orange on the red carpet as stars have promised to wear orange pins in support of ending gun violence—no word yet on just how much this had upended the “me too” movement black dresses and “Time’s Up” pins that monopolized the Golden Globes.
Political protests aren’t exactly new to the red carpet or the Oscar stage. Let’s take a look at some of the more memorable statements made on Oscar nights past:
Some moments have been rather subdued, like those made by Bette Davis in 1936 and Katherine Hepburn in 1972 when they came dressed casually to the usually formal affair. They meant it to be a statement of support for the feminist movement and against the objectification of women.
Other moments have been far more in your face, like in 1972 when Jane Fonda protested the Vietnam War by wearing a black pant suit she said fit the “somber times.” She would go home with the statuette that night and the continued ire of veterans everywhere.
In 1973, Marlon Brando was nominated for Best Actor for his role in the Godfather. Brando would win the award but he was not in the building. In his place he sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather. She refused the award on Brando’s behalf, as a statement against the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans in film and television, as well as the federal government’s long-standing failure to honor the treaties it had made with Native American nations.
In 1978 Vanessa Redgrave had been dealing with public outcry for The Palestinian, a documentary she produced and narrated, which presented a sympathetic portrayal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. When she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Julia, the Jewish Defense League picketed the Academy Awards as a protest against her work on the documentary. Redgrave won and in her speech referred to the protestors as “a bunch of Zionist hoodlums.”
Many may remember Cher in her revealing Bob Mackie designed midriff—and just about everything else—bearing, black glitter jumpsuit. She would later say she actually wore it in protest of the Academy itself for asking that women “tone it down” and dress more ladylike.
Next came the red ribbons. First in 1992 stars like Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor would sport them in support of AIDS awareness. Then in 1993 they would carry more specific meaning on the lapels and dresses of those like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins whose scarlet ribbons were meant to raise a conversation about HIV positive Haitians being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Denzel Washignton would pin a purple ribbon to his 1993 Oscar suit to bring attention to urban violence in America and Richard Gere would use his winning speech to bring awareness to Tibet and human rights violations by China.
It seems slightly unfathomable now, given the climate that we find ourselves in— but when Michael Moore took the stage in 2002 and lambasted President George H.W. Bush saying “We live in fictitious times. We live in a time where we have fictitious election results, that elects a fictitious president”—the audience booed him loudly.
For the 2016 awards, stars wore subtle bracelets from the #Enough campaign—created through a partnership between anti-gun violence organization the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the service project MyIntent—as a call to action against gun violence.
In 2017, the statements continued with blue ribbons in support of the ACLU and the “Resist” movement against Trump administration policies, as well as a few celebrities publicizing the Muslim designers they chose as shows of “solidarity” against a proposed ban on refugees that many would refer to as a Muslim Ban.
For the 2018 Oscars, the National Hispanic Media Coalition is also organizing protests to show its displeasure with what it calls the “chronic under-representation of Latinos in on-screen and behind-the-camera roles in motion pictures.” The Time’s up, Me Too and Anti-Gun movements are expected to have wide representation as well.
The red carpet is really nothing more than a public relations prom night for Hollywood, a chance to show of your brand as an actor—to not promote your movie or project but rather to promote yourself. And though part of promoting yourself may be to also promote your political ideologies, doing so in such an environment can lead to a lot of mixed messages. For example, it’s hard to listen to a star railing against poverty or income inequality when someone is wearing a borrowed pair of $750,000 earrings.
But it is a huge platform that many feel compelled to use, though not always to the liking of the audience or even their fellow Hollywood alumni. In 1978, in response to Vanessa Redgrave’s comments, iconic author, playwright, and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky came to the podium to present that evening’s writing awards and took a moment to respond saying “I would like to say — personal opinion, of course — that I am sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda.”
And this year’s award for best protest goes to……
**Featured Image: AP