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Oscars ideal platform for anti-war stars

Sunday's Oscars ceremony is likely to become a global platform for opponents and supporters of the conflict in Iraq.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2003 17:07 IST

The organisers may be going ahead with the Academy Awards presentation this Sunday despite the war in Iraq, but at the same time, the event presents itself as a tempting platform for the stars who wish to lodge anti-war protests. "We can count on the stars making political speeches," said awards expert Tom O'Neil. "They have done so historically at the Oscars and they will certainly do so on Sunday night," he said.

The awards will come four days after the expiration of the 48-hour deadline that US President George W. Bush on Monday gave Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to leave his country or face attack. The Oscars, which have been toned down to reflect the atmosphere, will fall as Washington goes to war and amid public opposition from a constellation of stars to US policy on Iraq.

Among them are strident anti-war activist Susan Sarandon – who will present an Oscar this year – best actress nominee Salma Hayek and superstar Dustin Hoffman who is also presenting.

Organisers fear that the show, which has already been stripped of much of its glamour including its signature red carpet arrivals show, may become a golden soap-box for concerned celebrities. While winners of Hollywood's greatest prize will be free to express their opinions on the conflict during their acceptance speeches, presenters have been barred from hijacking the ceremony.

"People who present an award on a show come to present ... and it would incorrect in my view and inappropriate for them to make any changes to what they have agreed to say," producer Gil Cates said.

"The nominee on the other hand, has earned their 45 seconds under the sun and while I personally might prefer them to stick to the reason that they're there ... it's their 45 seconds and within the bounds of good taste they can say what they want."

The show, which organisers insist will go ahead, is usually televised globally and is seen by up to a billion viewers. Nominees such as Michael Moore, nominated in the best documentary category for his anti-gun film Bowling for Columbine, would "do his usual Bush bashing," said Elisabeth Guider, executive editor of Daily Variety.

"We can expect the same from Bono from U2 (nominated for the theme song from Gangs of New York) and Pedro Almodovar, who is likely to win one of the screenplay awards," she added.

Spanish director Almodovar, also nominated as best director for his film Talk To Her, told anti-war protesters in Madrid recently that a new war in Iraq would be "a human catastrophe that will affect millions of people." Mexican actress Hayek told reporters this week it was "deplorable that we have not have found another way of resolving the war against Iraq."

O'Neil, noting that the first film to win an Oscar in May 1929 was the anti-war movie Wings, said the Oscars had always been "very political."

"Everything from Vietnam to freedom in Tibet to Marlon Brando talking about the (American) Indians, almost every year there have been comments, depending on what is the hot issue at the time," he said.

In 1993, actor Richard Gere, a campaigner for Tibetan autonomy who is doing a turn as a presenter this year, caused a scandal when he lashed then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and Beijing's human rights record. And the anti-war will be seen off the stage too as stars are expected to wear more conservative outfits than usual, with some sporting anti-war brooches that superstar Meryl Streep has urged them to don.

But not all stars are against the US-led war against Iraq, including actor Harrison Ford, and at least one group is demanding that the pro-war lobby be given equal time as its opponents during the telecast.

"If these actors, adults who pretend to be presidents, soldiers and others, want to engage in political speech, they ought to be required to observe the same equal time practices that real politicians follow," said Andrea Lafferty of the Washington-based Traditional Values Coalition.

"We shouldn't have to endure vacuous political rants in silence without an opportunity to respond," she said accusing liberal stars of planning to use the Oscars as "their free political soapbox."