The 2013 Academy Award broadcast generally steered clear of overt political statements, but two aspects of the occasion demonstrated the movie industry’s strong liberal values.
Most obviously, the selection of First Lady Michelle Obama to announce the Best Picture winner in a live satellite connection from the White House seemed odd and out of place. For one thing, her pairing with co-presenter Jack Nicholson constituted one of the strangest couplings in Hollywood history: the First Lady is noted as a champion of a healthy lifestyle and wholesome values, while the proudly out-of-shape, drug-indulging, aging playboy Nicholson has always represented an unhealthy lifestyle and unapologetically unwholesome values. Had Ann Romney become First Lady it’s difficult to imagine that she would have felt comfortable playing a role generally reserved for Hollywood insiders, or that the Motion Picture Academy would have invited her to do so.
Moreover, the selection of Argo as Best Picture over Lincoln expressed the topsy-turvy thinking of the Hollywood establishment. Rather than picking a movie that dramatized one of the most glorious moments in American history – the final abolition of slavery – the Academy chose a film that portrayed one of the most embarrassing – the Iran hostage crisis. Instead of a story of redemption based on military success, impassioned debate and bare-knuckled deployment of political power, the Oscar went to a daring rescue based on fast-talking Tinseltown scam artists and a silly Hollywood movie that didn’t even really exist. And rather than honoring the work of Steven Spielberg, the most successful and acclaimed director in movie history, the top prize represented a compensatory gesture to Ben Affleck, a once-reviled actor who drew sympathy because he failed to win a best director nomination. Argo remains a well-made, original and highly watchable film, but it hardly constitutes a work of substance and grandeur that will stand the test of time as will Lincoln.
The producers, writers and directors of both films share a passionate commitment to the Obama presidency, of course: Steven Spielberg is a devoted Democrat and generous donor to liberal causes, while his screenwriter Tony Kushner is a self-described socialist who suggests in interviews that Obama ranks with Lincoln as a great president. Meanwhile, Ben Affleck and his producing partners George Clooney and Grant Heslove also campaigned actively for the president’s re-election. But the Lincoln liberals displayed a reverence for our sixteenth president and the epic achievements of his heroic generation that can arguably be called conservative, while spreading the wealth to a less deserving achievement like Argo reflects values on the part of the Motion Picture Academy that qualify as undeniably liberal.