How Oscar Speeches Became So Political

Oscar night, long a showcase for Hollywood glamour, has also become a platform for film stars to pitch a rainbow of political causes.

The Oscars have been political for decades, whether it be at the presentation ceremonies or, earlier, in the lists of nominees announced by the governing body, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The 2020 Academy Award ceremony is likely to be no exception.

Because of Retro Report’s mission of examining the past to help understand the present, this video highlights some of Hollywood’s more notable #OscarsSoPolitical moments.

In 1978 Vanessa Redgrave won as best supporting actress for “Julia,” in which she played an activist murdered by the Nazis. A staunch supporter of the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel, Redgrave was the target of picketing by Jewish protesters. She denounced them from the stage as “a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums.”

That outburst was more than the screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky could take. Though hardly averse to social commentary in his own work, films like “Network” and “The Hospital,” Chayefsky used his turn at the 1978 ceremonies to say he was “sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion” to advance “their own personal political propaganda.” The audience loudly applauded.

The causes and speeches kept on rolling. This is but a partial list:

1993 – Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins call for HIV-positive Haitians to be allowed into the United States (for more, watch this Retro Report:

Richard Gere denounces China’s human rights record in Tibet.

2003 – Michael Moore attacks President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.

2005 – Sean Penn appeals for same-sex marriage rights.

2015 – Patricia Arquette calls for wage equality and equal rights for women.

2016 – Leonardo DiCaprio calls climate change “the most urgent threat facing our entire species.” Host Chris Rock addresses a lack of diversity in nominations during the show opening.

2019 – Maya Rudolph comments that Mexico is not paying for a border wall.

For teachers
  • Producer: Karen M. Sughrue
  • Editor: Heru Muharrar
  • Archival Researcher: Emily Orr