ANNETTE WITHERIDGE IN NEW YORK
THE backlash against prominent stars opposing any attack on Iraq has impacted on this year’s Oscars, with organisers drawing up a blacklist of people who will not be allowed a platform to air anti-war views.
Meryl Streep, Sean Penn, Vanessa Redgrave, George Clooney, Dustin Hoffman and Spike Lee are among those who will not be speaking, amid fears they could turn the ceremony into an anti-war rally.
In a move denounced by some as a return to McCarthyism, star presenters have been ordered to stick to scripts, while winners, who the producers have no control over, could find their acceptance speeches cut if they say anything much more than a brief thank you.
Officially, executives say that politics is a turn-off for the show’s television audience. But in the wake of a public backlash against actors such as Martin Sheen, from the West Wing, who have voiced opposition to war, producers do not want to upset advertisers who have paid more than £50 million for adverts. In previous years, high-profile presenters have grabbed the spotlight to promote their political causes. Richard Gere urged China to end its occupation of Tibet and Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins appealed for HIV-positive Haitians to be allowed into the United States.
Sarandon and Robbins are also among those on this year’s unofficial blacklist, along with Ed Norton and Dennis Hopper. The only anti-war campaigner on the presenters’ list so far is Salma Hayek, the star of Frida and a best actress nominee.
Gil Cates, one of the ceremony’s producers, wants the ceremony, which takes place on 23 March, to celebrate the Oscars’ 75th anniversary rather than the anti-Bush/Blair movement. And he admitted he thought it "inappropriate" for stars to use their slots to spotlight world problems.
But Tom O’Neil, an Oscar historian, said: "Political tantrums are inevitable. You’re dealing with a class of people who have unchecked egos and who are invited on talk shows to be experts on everything from high art to pop culture."
Top of the loose-cannon list this year is the Bowling for Columbine director, Michael Moore, a favourite to win the documentary feature award.
Last month, Moore thanked the French for not supporting the proposed Iraqi invasion while accepting an award in Paris. And on Saturday, he used the Writers Guild of America awards in Los Angeles to voice his opinions of George Bush, the US president.
Worryingly, for the Oscar producers, Moore won loud applause after telling the audience: "What I see is a country that does not like what’s going on. Let’s all commit ourselves to Bush removal in 2004."
If Moore does not win an Oscar, insiders claim Hollywood will be reverting back to the witch-hunting 1950s, when Senator Joseph McCarthy and his cohorts destroyed the careers of supposed Communist sympathies. The "Red scare" stories saw off Charlie Chaplin, who left Hollywood for Switzerland, and a host of other high-profile celebrities.
McCarthy-supporting actors included the former US president, Ronald Reagan, and the director Elia Kazan.