Donald Trump’s election was a wake-up call for liberal Hollywood – which, of course, is most of Hollywood – and right now throughout the industry, it’s mourning in America. It wasn’t just a rejection of all of the prominent Hollywood players who were front and center in Hillary Clinton’s campaign – from Haim Saban and Rob Reiner to Barbra Streisand and Beyonce. Insofar as the election also represented what CNN commentator Van Jones has called a “whitelash,” it was a rejection of the multicultural ideal – with all its talk of diversity and inclusion – that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has put at the top of its agenda.
Don’t look for a Trump appearance at the upcoming Feb. 26 broadcast – although, because he hungers for celebrity approval, he’d no doubt love to be asked. The Oscars will be taking place just a month after Trump’s inauguration, and emotions still will be pretty raw.
But, writers, spare us the Trump jokes because right now the joke’s on us. As host of the recent Emmys, Jimmy Kimmel got laughs by riffing on Trump. With 11.3 million viewers, it was the lowest-rated Emmy broadcast ever, which is not to suggest a cause and effect – just that Kimmel was preaching to the choir. Better that those who feel so moved use this year’s Oscars as a platform to voice serious-minded, principled protest against the fledging administration.
Trump’s name wasn’t mentioned from the podium at the Academy’s Governors Awards on Nov. 12 – one can only imagine that the script would have been quite different if Clinton had won – and the week’s dispiriting events were only alluded to as Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said of the power of the movies: “In uncertain times, they can connect us, change us and unify us.”
It felt like whistling in the dark.
Certainly, over the years, Hollywood and Washington have looked for reasons to embrace each other. Franklin D. Roosevelt opened the 13th Academy Awards in 1941 with a six-minute radio address that linked Hollywood movies to the defense of America and promotion of democracy abroad. At the 53rd Academy Awards, which was postponed a day because of the 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, the ceremony began with a pretaped greeting from Reagan that he had recorded a few weeks earlier. (Behind the scenes, there actually was a discussion of having him speak from his hospital bed, but that was nixed.) And even though Reagan’s politics weren’t shared by many of those in the audience, he got a warm round of applause.
During the Obama years, the relationship blossomed into a lovefest. Barack Obama appeared in a 2011 clip package to testify his favorite movie song was Casablanca’s “As Time Goes By.” Michelle Obama made a surprise appearance, beamed in from the White House, to present the best picture award to Argo at the 2013 Oscars. Vice President Joe Biden showed up at this February’s ceremony to speak out against sexual assault and introduce Lady Gaga’s performance of ” ‘Til It Happens to You” from the documentary The Hunting Ground. Obama even weighed in on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of the past two years, saying, “I think the Oscar debate is really just an expression of this broader issue of, ‘Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?’ ”
Now, reading the results of the election, the Hollywood studios, whose job it is to maximize profits, may have to look at their upcoming release slates to decide if they are talking to the audience of angry Trump supporters that found a voice at the ballot box, and the MPAA will have to cozy up to the Republican Congress. But that’s not the job of the Academy or the Oscars.
While the Academy always is tempted to lunge after ratings, for newly named Oscar show producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd, as well as Academy voters, instead of trying to chase after the Trump crowd, they’d do better to shine their spotlight unapologetically on those movies that reflect the inclusive spirit of the Obama years and the Clinton campaign: female-empowerment films as different as 20th Century Women, Hidden Figures and Elle; studies of black life from Fences to Moonlight; Loving’s reminder of the importance the Supreme Court can have in individual lives.
And if Trump doesn’t like it – well, I’m sure we’ll all hear about it when he tweets from the White House at 3 a.m. the next day.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.