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March 15, 2024

The Oscars: Glazer’s Speech

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Somebody was going to mention Palestine. This we knew. After all, the Academy asked a room of cynical film executives and incisive artists to celebrate themselves in front of a live television audience. What more could we expect than a spitting contest of performative agendas?

We should concede, first, that the Oscars have always been a charade. That’s not to say that they are unimportant — they are, rather, performative. If performances were unimportant, would there be an Oscars in the first place? For example: Marlon Brando refused the award for Best Actor in 1973. He asked Sacheen Littlefeather, president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, to speak in his place about the treatment of Indigenous people by the film industry. “I beg at this time,” she said to a booing audience, “that I have not intruded upon this evening, and that we will in the future … meet with love and generosity.” Surely that’s important. 

While a film will tend to have some cohesive vision, an unscripted program is subject to the whims of its stars. Then it becomes a contest of visions. Littlefeather’s speech was gracious but  deliberately combative; she and Brando disrupted the show in order to redirect attention to a more important issue.

The Sun’s Associate Editor Max Fattal ’25 may have ghost-written Jonathan Glazer’s acceptance speech for Best International Feature Film: “As horrifying images from Gaza increasingly begin to take the position of wallpaper on social media feeds, The Zone of Interest forces us to confront our own complicity in the process of tuning out horror or excusing our own inaction.” It’s that uncomfortable question the American Left has yet to figure out: Why don’t we act? Glazer said, “All our choices were made to reflect and confront us in the present — not to say, ‘Look what they did then,’ rather, ‘Look what we do now.’” We have not found it difficult to expose injustice and horrific violence in the status quo. But has that injustice become so overexposed that we don’t care to stop it, whether we neglect its existence altogether or call ourselves liberationists? These are the questions that Glazer wants us to interrogate through all of the drivel. That distinguishes his political demonstration from Brando’s — all Glazer asks, at the end of the day, is for us to engage with his work. He does not antagonize the Academy, and as such, leaves room for them to be on his side. The result was a timid non-consensus unlike the decisive ostracization of Brando and Littlefeather.

The theme of the night could have been uncomfortable tolerance. The gentle letdown of Lily Gladstone, who received unanimous praise this press cycle for her performance in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, might have confused some audiences about the Academy’s identity politics. It felt almost certain that the film industry, which had hyped the possibility of Gladstone winning the first ever acting award for an Indigenous performer, would actualize this vision. That would appear consistent with the tremendously popular victories of Michelle Yeoh and CODA in the previous two years. A simple interpretation might be that the Academy is not really interested in diversity. I think it might be more accurate to call it an indictment of virtue signaling — a confirmation that those previous history-making wins were not awarded for good press. It seems most likely, if not overly charitable, that more members of the Academy had genuinely preferred Emma Stone’s performance over Gladstone’s. The Academy, we know, is not always united. 
Hence, the tension in the room. Mahershala Ali, Billie Eilish and Mark Ruffalo, among others, wore red lapel pins in support of an Israel-Palestine ceasefire. Even these simple gestures are often taken as hostile, prompting backlash from some critics. The performative turmoil includes the Israel-Palestine discourse from November, when Melissa Barrera was dropped from the Scream franchise for calling the Israeli offensive on Palestine a genocide. Jonathan Glazer, still, was the only one to verbally broach the subject at the Oscars. He did it with an earnest sensitivity that would not alienate him. His agenda subsumed all others — it held compatible with his audience’s timid silence. Is that the best way to exploit the performative confusion over Zionism? I think it is important that sensitive opinions are sometimes more readily tolerated with respect to context. That’s why critical writing has a distinct capability to change minds: Contextual analysis undermines misinformation. It is a whole other issue whether it matters to be tolerated if something meaningful can otherwise be done.

Eric Han is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].