By Brian Lowry, CNN
Like any awards show, the Oscars are built on the inherently self-centered notion that what happens in the room and who wins the trophies matters, in what should be a welcome distraction from the outside world.
Sometimes, however, world events have cast such a large shadow that they cannot be ignored. And while the Hollywood maxim is that the show must go on, in a few instances real-world concerns have crept into the ceremony in ways that have forced organizers to alter its schedule, including last year’s delay due to a global pandemic.
The war in Ukraine dominated news cycles and prompted statements of solidarity from members of the film and television industry ahead of the Oscars. Over the years, politics and the Oscars have gone hand in hand, and war has often been part of the backdrop, from World War II – when the actual statuettes were plaster due to metal shortages – to Vietnam , a tumultuous time that on various occasions spilled over into the show.
Yet in the television era, three events particularly stand out: the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981, and the start of the Iraq War in 2003.
In the first two cases, the awards were briefly postponed, and there was talk of doing so in 2003. (The Oscars were delayed another time because of the 1938 floods.)
A look back at each of these events, and the effect they had on the ceremony.
1968: The Assassination of the King
The April 4 civil rights icon’s murder came days before the ceremony, with several expected to perform or appear, including Sidney Poitier, Louis Armstrong and Diahann Carroll — planning to attend King’s funeral on April 9, the day after the broadcast. (Poitier starred in two top nominees that year, “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”)
Because there was no way for them to arrive in time, the Academy pushed back the ceremony from April 8 to April 10 and canceled its Governors Ball. The organization’s then-president, Gregory Peck, began the telecast by paying tribute to King.
1981: Reagan is shot
Reagan was actually scheduled to open the ceremony with a segment taped at the White House about the global reach of the Oscars and movies. Many who attended the awards were particularly shaken, having known Reagan from his days as an actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild.
The producers scrambled and ultimately opted to postpone the awards for a day (Johnny Carson was the host that year), with veteran writer Buzz Kohan, who worked on the show, recall 25 years later to the Hollywood Reporter: “Curiously enough, it was Reagan himself who set the tone by telling the doctors in the operating room, ‘Please tell me you’re all Republicans.’ We thought if the man who was shot can make a joke about it, he gave us permission to do the same.
“That old adage ‘The show must go on’ seemed relatively inconsequential,” Carson said as he opened the telecast, saying the president was in “excellent condition” and it was his “expressed wishes” that the producers use his introduction. recorded, which they did.
“The movie is forever,” Reagan said, echoing the show’s theme that year, adding to the laughs, “I myself have been trapped in a movie forever.”
2003: The invasion of Iraq
United States invaded Iraq a few days before the broadcast, fueling discussion on whether the awards should be postponed. On the eve of the awards ceremony, Oscar-winning producer Gil Cates told the Los Angeles Times“Of the 11 shows I’ve produced, this is the hardest I’ve done.”
The Times described the days leading up to the awards as “one of the strangest and most stressful weeks in Oscars history”. The show continued, but the red carpet was eliminated along with temporary bleachers for fans to watch the star arrivals.
Further controversy arose during the show when Michael Moore accepted his Best Documentary Oscar for “Bowling for Columbine”. Moore denounced the war – calling President George W. Bush a “fictitious president” and saying, “Shame on you, Mr. Bush,” which sparked boos from the crowd and caused the filmmaker to leave the stage.
Fifteen years later, receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, Moore took the opportunity to finish his speechwhich ended with him encouraging people to “take a camera and fight the power, raise your voice and stop this senseless war”.
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