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Will Hollywood’s Relative Silence On Gaza Continue At The Oscars?

At the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Feb. 25, a group of protesters interrupted the show by playing a series of prerecorded chants on a megaphone, including “free Palestine,” “long live Palestine” and “cease-fire now.” 

Inside the annual ceremony honoring independent filmmakers, held in a beachfront tent in Santa Monica, California, a handful of award winners used their time on the stage to mention the protesters.

“There are people speaking outside, and whatever they’re saying, I think it’s far more important than what I’m about to say,” director Babak Jalali said while accepting the John Cassavetes Award for the film “Fremont,” as the chants could be heard in the distance. “I’m so inspired by what they’re saying outside, I can’t think of what I’m about to say.”

Accepting the Robert Altman Award, “Showing Up” director Kelly Reichardt recalled the last time she saw the award’s namesake, the late director Robert Altman, in 2003.

“America was dropping bombs on Iraq at that time, and he was pissed,” she said. “And I think he’d have a lot to say — just this weirdness of us being here and celebrating each other and our work, and also, you know, life goes on outside the tent. Peace.”

They, along with certain others, have been the exceptions to the rule of remaining mostly silent on the war in Gaza during this year’s film awards season — a silence that will likely continue at Sunday night’s Academy Awards.

A large Oscar statue is seen on the red carpet during the setup for the Academy Awards on March 7 in Los Angeles.
A large Oscar statue is seen on the red carpet during the setup for the Academy Awards on March 7 in Los Angeles. Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images

Unfortunately, it has been unsurprising to see very few stars and filmmakers directly speak out about Gaza on Hollywood’s biggest stages. People across many industries, including entertainment, have faced career consequences for calling for a cease-fire or expressing support for Palestinians.

Still, the relative silence has been jarring in several ways. As The New York Times’ Kyle Buchanan pointed out, it’s a stark contrast from just two years ago, when scores of celebrities demonstrated their support for the people of Ukraine on the red carpet or onstage while accepting an award. The country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, spoke at multiple award shows via video message.

Political protest from Hollywood luminaries tends to be highly selective. On the eve of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration in 2017, Meryl Streep brought down the house at that year’s Golden Globes, excoriating the then president-elect in an acceptance speech for the lifetime achievement award. At the 2015 Oscars, Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech to call for equal pay for women.

Celebrities will happily turn their awards speeches into stirring rallying calls — but only for certain causes. Better not to ruffle too many feathers. Again, it’s completely understandable why talking about Gaza presents a particular challenge: The professional risk is very high. But that fact alone speaks volumes about where we are.

The reluctance to publicly broach what’s happening in Gaza is also highly noticeable in a year when there are multiple awards contenders that grapple with moral quandaries about war, genocide and the selective ways that history memorializes these, including Best Picture nominees “Oppenheimer,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and “The Zone of Interest.” When developing awards campaigns for movies, publicists and strategists often tout the timeliness and relevance of a film (regardless of whether those labels truly apply). It’s not hard to imagine connecting each of those historical movies to the present. The connections are right in front of us.

Only “The Zone of Interest” has admirably made that connection. At the BAFTA Awards in mid-February, producer James Wilson gave one of the few acceptance speeches this season that has explicitly mentioned Gaza, drawing a direct parallel with the themes of the film. The haunting and unsettling movie depicts the daily routines of a Nazi commandant and his family, living a life of comfort and privilege while overseeing the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp literally next door to their capacious home.

“A friend wrote me after seeing the film the other day that he couldn’t stop thinking about the walls we construct in our lives which we choose not to look behind,” Wilson said in his acceptance speech for Best Film Not in the English Language. “Those walls aren’t new, from before or during or since the Holocaust, and it seems stark right now that we should care about innocent people being killed in Gaza or Yemen, in the same way we think about innocent people being killed in Mariupol [in Ukraine] or in Israel … or anywhere else in the world. And thank you for recognizing a film that asks us to think in those spaces.”

If “The Zone of Interest” wins the Oscar for International Feature Film as expected, hopefully Wilson and others behind the movie will choose to reiterate those sentiments. It would be a meaningful moment — and a welcome break from the silence.

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