Hollywood Flashback: Michael Moore's Political Comments Earned Cheers and Boos at 2003 Oscars
The 'Bowling for Columbine' director used his acceptance speech to protest the invasion of Iraq ("Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you") and took a shot at the 2000 Bush-Gore election ("We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president").
It's something of an achievement to be concurrently applauded and booed during an Oscar acceptance speech, but Michael Moore achieved just that in 2003 when Bowling for Columbine won for best documentary feature.
Moore's film was a favorite coming into Oscar night. The Hollywood Reporter called it "a flat-out brilliant cinematic essay on the issue of guns and violence in American society." The documentary had been in competition at Cannes and received a 13-minute standing ovation — but no prize. (It was at Cannes that the U.S. rights were bought by the late Bingham Ray of United Artists; he didn't have the authority in his contract to pay $2 million for a documentary, but did it anyway.) The $4 million film went on to become the most successful doc in history, grossing $58 million worldwide. (That record was broken when Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 brought in $222 million in 2004.)
Columbine's Oscar win, though not a huge surprise, initially garnered a standing ovation in the Kodak Theatre. But then Moore used his two-minute acceptance speech to protest the invasion of Iraq that had begun four days earlier ("We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you"). And when he took a shot at the 2000 Bush-Gore election ("We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president"), the reaction shifted to a mix of boos and cheers. They grew even louder for his last line, as the orchestra played him offstage: "And any time you've got the pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up. Thank you very much."
In the postshow analysis, there were suggestions that the negative reaction was a combination of those who didn't agree with him about the war and those who felt he'd introduced a political opinion into an event where it didn't belong. What's widely agreed on, however, is that host Steve Martin's line immediately afterward helped to lighten the mood: "Right now, the Teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo."
This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.