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Politics And The Academy Awards

Film critics discuss controversies at the Oscars and assess this year’s nominees

Preparations continued Wednesday, February 22, 2017 for the 89th Oscars® for ...

Credit: Robert Gladden / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Above: Preparations continued Wednesday, February 22, 2017 for the 89th Oscars® for outstanding film achievements of 2016 which will be presented on Sunday, February 26, 2017 at the Dolby Theatre and televised live by the ABC Television Network.

Politics And The Academy Awards


Yazdi Pithavala, Moviewallas film critic and podcaster

Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter


The 89th annual Academy Awards are this Sunday and politics of one sort or another are likely to be on display as are the most diverse group of acting nominees.

Last year, the Oscars became more political then it probably wanted to be with critics creating the hashtag #OscarSoWhite. As a result, the nominations in the acting categories has gone from zero people of color being nominated last year to a record setting seven this year in the four acting categories.

This year Denzel Washington ("Fences") and Ruth Negga ("Loving") received Best Acting in a Lead Role nominations while Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight"), Dev Patel ("Lion"), Naomie Harris ("Moonlight"), Viola Davis ("Fences") and Octavia Spencer ("Hidden Figures") received nods in the supporting category.

That is a progress of sorts, although placing Davis in the supporting category seems an acknowledgement by the film's studio that she wouldn't have a chance in the Best Actress category where Emma Stone ("La La Land") looks to be the favorite.

But a different kind of politics may also arise at this year’s awards if the Golden Globes and Meryl Streep are any indication. Hollywood celebrities have taken the opportunity to use recent awards shows as a platform for voicing their criticism of the current Trump Administration.

Oscars, though, are no strangers to politics. One of the more memorable moments occurred in 1978 when Vanessa Redgrave won best supporting actress for "Julia" and used her acceptance speech to condemn the "Zionist hoodlums" that had been campaigning against her because of her pro-Palestinian views. Paddy Chayefsky took his time at the podium to reprimand Redgrave for using the Oscars as a platform for her personal politics.

The Oscars have been host to other instances of politics — Marlon Brando sending up Sacheen Littlefeather to reject his Oscar for "The Godfather" and Peter Davis and Bert Schneider winning Best Documentary for "Hearts and Minds" — and to winners who chose not to make a political statement such as when the outspoken Jane Fonda avoided controversy by keeping her speech to essentially just a thank you.

This year, the films themselves speak to many social issues from interracial marriage ("Loving") to a young man coming to terms with his gay identity ("Moonlight") to shining a light on the African-American women who helped NASA send a man into space in the 1960s ("Hidden Figures").

But despite all the diversity Oscar is trying to serve up in its nominees and presenters, "La La Land," with its white leads, has already tied a record for the most nominations for any film ("Titanic" and "All About Eve" are the only other films with 14 nominations) and is likely to take home the top prizes. Because there is one thing that you can always count on in Hollywood and that is that Hollywood loves films about itself and "La La Land" serves up a loving musical pastiche to the city of dreams.

Check out Beth Accomando's best and worst of 2016 at Cinema Junkie, and Yazdi Pithavala's picks at Moviewallas.

Here is a complete list of nominees and a printable ballot for any Oscar pools.

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