If you're planning on tuning in to the Oscars Sunday, be prepared for an awards show that will double as a political battleground. While most years the political side of the Oscars has been subdued, eliciting groans and eye-rolls if it rears its pariah head, this year is different. This year, Trump has finally made the Oscars politically relevant.
Oscar has always had an awkward relationship with political speech. They'll flirt and hold hands and make silly jokes until someone (probably George Clooney) gets over-sincere and the whole thing sort of falls apart in mutual embarrassment.
But this year is different. This year we have a massively controversial president who's proven he's watching awards shows and will actually respond to, at least, what Meryl Streep has to say. This year a lot of Oscar nominees are pissed off about and offended by the president's words and actions. This year, we have a set of nominated Oscar films whose stories and messages run parallel to the battles playing out in the news. Even Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel knows we can't go a whole day without talking about Trump.
"Right now, you go to dinner, and everyone wants to talk about Donald Trump the whole time," he told the New York Times. "Love ’em or hate ’em, he is Topic No. 1, 2 and 4."
Let's take a look at the politics of the nominated movies. It's not uncommon for the Academy to honor stories that have a political bent. What is uncommon is for those politics to actually be relevant in the current climate. A lot of the time it feels like Oscar movies are talking about political fights that were decided years, decades, or even centuries ago. But now we have a president who seems thrilled to play the bad guy in a modern civil rights movie. He's picking fights in areas the Oscar movies just happen to be addressing.
Immigration? Lion, nominated for Best Picture, is all about the immigrant experience. And even kids' movie Moana has sort of a soft take on the subject. If Moana breakout hit "How Far I'll Go" — which could be an immigrant anthem by the way —wins the Oscar for Best Original Song, don't expect songwriter and Hamilton scribe Lin-Manuel Miranda to keep quiet about politics.
"It's a political time, so I imagine the Oscars will look exactly like your Twitter or Facebook feed," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "Why should we ignore for three hours what we're talking about 24 hours a day?"
LGBTQ civil rights? Moonlight, also nominated for Best Picture, is about the damage done to a gay man in a hyper-masculine culture who who learns from an early age to hide his sexuality. Also, it's about poor people in the inner city — people Trump seems to know so little about that he dismisses their entire experience as "American carnage." Breakout Moonlight actor Mahershala Ali has a very good chance of winning Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars Sunday. And after the Muslim actor's speech at the SAG Awards, we assume he'll have something to say at the Oscars, too.
Other nominees that seem likely to speak out against Trump if they win include Viola Davis and Meryl Streep. The duo delivered a blistering one-two punch at the Golden Globes, and Streep's words took up a decent-sized chunk of the news cycle for a few days after.
What about the argument that entertainers should stay out of politics? Author and screenwriter John Irving recently took on that idea. He won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules in 2000, and he's not the only one who feels it's unfair to expect these people to not have opinions.
"There is a sniffery of disapproval at mixing entertainment with politics, that there’s a kind of understanding that it’s somehow distasteful and inappropriate for sports celebrities, actors, writers, collectively artists, for us to dabble in politics," he told The Globe and Mail. "Politics is strictly for people with political commitments and knowledge. Well, if you believe that then you belong in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four."