How Trump Will Impact Oscar Vote, Deprive Popular Musical of Win
by Glenn Lovell
Will issue movies trump eye candy at this year’s Oscars as fired-up Hollywood liberals attempt to send the new president a loud-and-clear message that they won’t stand for fear-driven legislation meant to rob women, Muslims, people of color, and the LGBT community of their hard-fought rights?
Following that inspired #OscarsSoWhite campaign, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last year expanded its membership with a healthy infusion of younger, more diverse talent. And unlike the Academy’s Old Guard (white, male, over 50), these new members — Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”), Carmen Ejogo (“Selma”), Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”), Byung-Hun Lee (“The Magnificent Seven”), and America Ferrera (“End of Watch”), among them — may well prefer real-life issues over sentiment or institutionalized nostalgia.
In the current volatile political climate, they won’t want to appear self-congratulatory or out of touch. They’ll want their votes to matter.
If the above scenario plays out, presumptive Best Picture winner “La La Land” will be the biggest casualty, as Academy voters shunt aside the popular throwback musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling for something less frothy.
I’m ordinarily not a gambling man, but I’d take the long odds on “Moonlight” or “Fences” to win in the Best Picture category, with the edge going to Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” because the Miami-set drama tackles both racism and homophobia and “Fences,” as good as it is, is a more traditional stage-to-screen transfer.
What about “Hidden Figures” or “Lion” or “Manchester by the Sea,” all critically acclaimed best-picture nominees? The first, about African-American mathematicians standing up to NASA’s segregationist practices during the space race, is worthwhile if conventional; the second, about a lost boy finally finding his way home, is too baldly manipulative; the third, starring best actor frontrunner Casey Affleck as a brooding New England handyman, is intense but mostly lily white in a year dedicated to diversity.
“La La Land,” like “The Artist,” the best picture winner in 2012, is show-biz honoring show-biz and, therefore, more than a little narcissistic. Which is why it leads the pack with 14 nominations. But as things heat up politically – and each day brings a more alarming executive order – the delightful throwback musical will look more and more inconsequential. And this will spell its undoing in the top category. It should do fine in the production design, cinematography, song and score categories.
Another sign that “La La Land” won’t win best picture: Meryl Streep’s surprise nomination in the best actress category for her tone-deaf philanthropist in the indifferently received “Florence Foster Jenkins.” This is the spot that was reserved for either Amy Adams in “Arrival” or Annette Bening in “20th Century Women.” Streep edged out both actresses after her gutsy anti-Trump speech at the Golden Globes. Suddenly, the actress has morphed into Delacroix’s barricade-storming Liberty Leading the People. Trump helped Streep to a record 20th nomination by lashing out via Twitter the following morning, calling her “a Hillary flunky” and “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood.”
By attacking Streep, Trump assured her of a spot among the Oscar nominees. The president’s subsequent attacks on everything the movie industry holds dear will have a similar effect on the voting process, turning Academy members away from delightful song-and-dance and towards something darker, timelier, more relevant.
In short, this year’s final Oscar vote, held Feb. 13-21, will essentially be a referendum on Trump. And that spells fewer trophies for the audacious but apolitical musical-fantasy about two pretty but self-consumed Hollywood hopefuls.
The 89th Academy Awards ceremony will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday, Feb. 26. Jimmy Kimmel will host.
Glenn Lovell is a Bay Area film critic-instructor-author (“Escape Artist”). He has been published in The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times, Variety and, more recently, Boston Globe.