Why the Oscars Should Expect a Mean Tweet From Trump

Warning to Oscar Expect a Mean Tweet From Trump
Illustration by Eliana Rodgers

The presidential contest may have been decided, but that doesn't mean politics is over. Awards contenders — from 'The  Trial  of  the  Chicago  7' to 'One  Night  in  Miami' — are full of blue state agendas and red state critiques. Even Borat could crash the party.

The Electoral College has officially voted, and the 2020 presidential election is over — finally? Hopefully! Joe Biden will be sworn in as president Jan. 20, and Donald Trump can pack his bags and retreat to stew in his resentments at Mar-a-Lago, his very own Xanadu-by-the-sea.

But that doesn't mean Hollywood, after mobilizing for the get-out-the-vote effort, will be putting politics aside as it gears up for its COVID-delayed 93rd Academy Awards, to be held April 25. In fact, this year's Oscars promises to further a blue state agenda, fielding an array of films that speak to the issues that have taken center stage over the past few years.

"This is the Academy Awards of protests, and as far as I'm concerned, it's an honor just to be nominated," anti-war activist Lee Weiner, played by Noah Robbins, jokes, perhaps prophetically, in Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7. More than 14 years in development, the film, which re-creates the 1968 Chicago riots outside that year's Democratic National Convention and the government's subsequent attempt to convict seven of the protesters for conspiracy, finally arrived in September, when it played as an au courant rebuke to Trump's own demands that protests that broke out nationwide this year be shut down. (Dr. Anthony Fauci has revealed he's a fan of the film.)

Those protests' chants of "Black Lives Matter" might as well be the banner flying over an array of this season's serious contenders — from Regina King's One Night in Miami, in which such iconic figures as Malcolm X, the soon-to-be-renamed Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke wrestle with their roles in the nascent black power movement, to George C. Wolfe's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, in which Viola Davis reigns as the mother of the blues as she fights for control of her music in an industry controlled by white men. Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods, in which four Black GIs return to Vietnam, opens with newsreel footage that includes Malcolm X, Ali and the Chicago riots, and Shaka King's Judas and the Black Messiah focuses on Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who also figures in Chicago 7.

Some of this season's movies do venture into red state territory, but not in a way that's likely to win them a spot at movie night at Mar-a-Lago. There are no MAGA hats on view in Ron Howard's Hillbilly Elegy, which avoids the sociological analysis describing the Republican voter in J.D. Vance's book on which the movie is based. Instead, it tells a tale of family dysfunction, in which Glenn Close plays the embattled matriarch trying to hold her clan together. Chloé Zhao's Nomadland is, in part, a critique of the nation's failing safety net. And Paul Greengrass' News of the World, set in the 1870s, doesn't take the often-reactionary route traveled by many previous Westerns but rather takes issue with those Texas racists who refused to submit to the federal government.

Sacha Baron Cohen, after first playing the anarchic Abbie Hoffman in Chicago 7, ventured directly into the maelstrom in the guise of his alter-ego Borat just as COVID-19 was shutting down America. New York Times critic A.O. Scott praised the results, calling Borat Subsequent Moviefilm the year's best movie for capturing "the feeling of its moment with dismaying accuracy." Arguably, Cohen deserves some sort of nomination just so he can extend an invite to Rudy Giuliani to attend the Oscars as his plus-one.

Not all politics are national, of course. Some of the most heated arguments also will strike closer to home, as filmmakers who want their work seen in theaters face off against the corporate overlords bent on forging a streaming future. Christopher Nolan already has struck out against his home studio Warner Bros. over its decision to send its 2021 movie slate to HBO Max, declaring it "the worst streaming service" and adding, "They don't even understand what they're losing." Forget whether or not Warners will now be doing much of an Oscar push for Nolan's Tenet. As other filmmakers travel this year's virtual awards circuit, they all will be asked to take sides.

As the lines get drawn, the conversations could get complicated, especially now that a movie like David Fincher's Mank, which celebrates one of the greatest movies of all time even if its treatment of the groundbreaking Orson Welles is open to debate, was commissioned by leading streamer Netflix.

However the season does shake out, though, and whatever form ABC's Oscars ceremony itself ultimately takes, one thing is certain: Ratings are almost sure to decline. And Trump, with nothing else to do, will be watching closely ­— as he has in the past — a mean tweet at the ready, as he declares the whole evening "Sad!"

This story first appeared in the Dec. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.