An escape from reality into the world of movies
The enduring popularity of movies confirms the human need to escape reality
The public’s fascination with movies and movie stars manifests itself in the hundreds of millions of people who annually watch the Academy Awards ceremony (a.k.a. the Oscars) worldwide.
The show (which will be telecast on Sunday) is not just about honouring cinematic excellence. It is also about maximizing box-office grosses: an Oscar statuette (emblematic of the pinnacle of achievement in the film industry) increases the revenues of winning films and the salaries of winning actors in their next film. In Hollywood, art and profit have a symbiotic relationship.
For over a century now, motion pictures have enabled audiences to temporarily escape from real life into the “reel life” of movie characters whose problems mostly culminate in success and a happy ending. The enduring popularity of movies confirms the human need to escape reality through entertainment and demonstrates the powerful role that cinematic illusion plays in society and its culture. Many fans live vicariously through the onscreen roles and offscreen lives of their favourite movie stars, resulting in some fans being incentivized to pursue a career in the entertainment industry (the subject of Best Picture nominee La La Land). Sadly, the reality of life does not always match the illusion of movies and the pursuit of one’s Hollywood dreams does not always culminate in success — for each person who makes it in la-la land, there are multitudes who fail.
The Oscar show is essentially a celebration of Hollywood — the birthplace of American cinema and legendary city of dream fulfilment, where with talent, opportunity, and luck, an unknown aspirant can be catapulted into cinematic and box office prominence and achieve fame and fortune. Of interest to Canadians at this year’s Oscars is actor Ryan Gosling, who hails from Ontario and went to high school in Burlington. Gosling followed his dream of becoming a Hollywood actor, defied the odds in realizing it, and has been rewarded with cinematic achievement — early last month he won a best actor award at the Golden Globes for La La Land. Many are hoping that he will repeat that success at the Oscars. Canadian pride will soar if he wins, but he faces tough competition.
Although some depreciate the Oscar ceremony as a self-glorifying exercise in Hollywood narcissism and vanity, it is the top-rated and most viewed entertainment awards show of the year. It attracts viewers by offering more than just the announcing of nominees, the opening of envelopes, and the dispensing of statuettes to winners. The show captivates its viewers with its lavish glitz, pageantry, and entertainment: the fashion display and interviews during the red carpet entrance of the attendees, and the onstage singing, dancing, showing of movie clips, and comic relief provided during the show.
But another inducement for watching the Oscar spectacle is its use as a platform to protest social or political injustice. Last year many black celebrities denounced the lack of diversity in the 2015 and 2016 Oscar nominations.
This year the Academy corrected this exclusion with a record-setting six black nominees in the acting category. And when documentary filmmaker Michael Moore won an Oscar for Bowling for Columbine in 2002, he used the podium to lambaste president George W. Bush’s “fictitious reasons” for invading Iraq, and challenged his legitimacy by bewailing the “fictitious election results that elects a fictitious President.” Considering the shadow of Russian interference in the recent U.S. election, Moore’s prescient words aptly describe the way many people feel about Trump and his election.
As evinced by Trump’s inability to attract elite movie and music celebrities in his campaign and inauguration, it is no secret that the Hollywood community — which is traditionally left-wing — harbours anti-Trump sentiments. Meryl Streep reflected this bias at the Golden Globes last month, when on receiving an honorary award, she castigated Trump for mimicking the physical disabilities of a reporter: “Disrespect invites disrespect, violence invites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” Her remarks drew audience applause, but also invited a Trump tweet that labelled Streep as an “overrated actress” and a “Hillary flunky.” Trump’s retaliatory, disrespectful, and bullying words confirmed both the truth of what Streep said and Trump’s thin-skinned lack of forbearance.
Undeniably, America (and the world) is gripped in the throes of a bitter schism between Trump opponents and supporters. Given that Trump’s election and actions have sparked a firestorm of mass demonstrations in Washington and in many cities inside and outside the U.S., viewers already anticipate anti-Trump side-swipes at the Oscars. But this politically charged climate has been intensified in Hollywood by Academy Awards president Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ recent denunciation of Trump’s travel ban at the annual Oscar nominees’ luncheon — where she exhorted nominees “to stand up” politically so as to “become agents of change.”
Will Isaac’s words be heeded and incite substantial political dissent at this year’s Oscars, or not? Aside from finding out if one’s favourite nominees will win, this is a compelling question for watching this year’s show. That’s because in this turbulent winter of division and protest, the subject of Trump’s disruptive presidency is ubiquitous — and looms large in the minds of Americans and non-Americans alike.
The Oscar spectacle is often used as a platform to protest social or political injustice. What will happen this year, the year of Trump?