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Boycott the Oscars

As they said during the Vietnam era, "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" So think of the significance, with this insoluble invasion of Iraq coinciding with the insipid Oscars, if they gave the biggest awards show in the world and nobodies came.

By Wednesday, neither ABC nor the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nor the rest of Hollywood made plans to even delay this Sunday's broadcast of the always-narcoleptic ceremony — not with commercial time selling out a month in advance, the average price for a 30-second spot approaching $1.4 million, and mega-more dollars generated globally for all the studios with Oscar winners. Instead, the powers that be rolled up the red carpet so everyone creeps in the way of the Kodak Theater. This decision not only cancels all that live-arrivals hoopla covered by 500 media outlets and consumed by the world, but it also effectively muzzles any impromptu soapbox speeches by the anti-war celebrities.

What a wake-up call! Just one more reason why star activists should boycott this 75th Oscars. Kick the infotainment conglomerates and the companies who advertise with them where it will hurt the most: in the wallet. Big Media — because its moguls promote the war agenda of the Bush administration (whose FCC just happens to be deciding the fate of further media consolidation) while its on-air talking heads ridicule those actors who oppose the hawks. Corporate America — because Oscar sponsors like American Express, Anheuser-Busch, Charles Schwab, General Motors, J.C. Penney, MasterCard and PepsiCo exercise too much power over the kind of content going out to the public.

Imagine an Academy Awards stripped of all glitz and glibness, that is nameless and faceless, that is muted and mute. Moviemakers could make their biggest statement by shocking everyone and not showing up, or stopping by and not saying anything at all.

Think of the world tuning in to the sight of silence: a night of peace amid war.

Think of all the fleeing viewers and lost moola.

It could give new meaning to the battle phrase "shock and awe."

The Weekly has learned that, already, several prominent past Oscar winners are secretly organizing a symbolic protest for that segment when the show gathers all of the living honorees of the acting awards onstage to commemorate its diamond anniversary. A few have already told friends they're planning individually not to participate; several others are trying for a mass walkout. The Academy and producer Gil Cates are clueless.

As for the actors: damned if they do, damned if they don't. Showing up in borrowed Tom Ford threads and Harry Winston gems while U.S. bombs rain down on Baghdad will only reinforce the world's image of the Ugly American. Even dressing down will be deemed hypocritical. Besides, once the fighting starts, all will be decried as unpatriotic Americans, morale blowers for the troops, traitors to the country, by the Limbaugh-Hannity-O'Reilly-Elder-Prager-Coulter-Ingraham-Savage-Scarborough cabal of conservatives who control the airwaves. The time is right for the moviemakers to grab back the microphones and simply lay them down Oscar night.

The 4-month-old Hollywood anti-war group, Artists United To Win Without War, isn't proposing an Oscars boycott. But it's vowing to keep its activism going.

The Weekly has learned that Artists United will be distributing its own lapel pin — a peace symbol inside a circle — to be worn at the Academy Awards. Dustin Hoffman, Ben Affleck and Julianne Moore are among those already committed to wear it.

"All of us support the soldiers so much we want them to come home," says one of the spokesmen, actor Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H). "We continue to believe the war is wrongly imposed, inappropriate and unnecessary. Having said that, we understand the duty of people in uniform is to obey their commander in chief. So we support the troops — in spite of the fact we believe the commander in chief to be wrong."

When the acting community's anti-war sentiment began to be organized by director-producer Robert Greenwald in December, he had only 10 celebrities as signatories to a call for peace. A small news conference was held at Hollywood's Les Deux Cafe.

To everyone's amazement, the French bistro was jammed with global media.

Soon Artists United's membership expanded to 50, then 75, then 100, now even more. Its opponents argued that all this star wattage seemed childish, at best churlish. But they took notice when the actors' fortunes paid for newspaper pages and TV spots opposing a strike on Iraq, and their fame provided invitations to speak at anti-war rallies. Then cable called on Sean Penn, Jessica Lange and Janeane Garofalo — who came up with the Zeitgeist-iest zinger: "I would much rather they talk to Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, who certainly know a lot more than I do, but I have access to the media."

People, Us and MTV led the glam clan clamoring for interviews with Young Artists United founders Jake Gyllenhaal, his girlfriend Kirsten Dunst and his sister Maggie, whose anti-war Sundance Film Festival chatter led to talk-radio comparisons to Jane Fonda.

With anti-war activism threatening to look cool again, conservatives sought to close down the actor backtalk. In February, suspiciously worded polls surfaced claiming 80 percent of Americans were not being swayed by celebrities. Artists United's Greenwald demanded the surveys be reworded to measure who became aware of anti-war sentiment as the result of exposure to something said by a celebrity. "That's the key," Greenwald insists. "If you frame it that way, we have touched millions of people."

To counter Martin Sheen's TV spots, right-wingers funded ads starring ex­Senator Fred Thompson, now the new D.A. on Law & Order. Articles claimed NBC was worried that President Bartlet's activism was watering down West Wing's ratings, while Visa pulled those popular card ads starring father and son Marty and Charlie. (Little wonder that once-upon-a-time similarly embattled Bill Maher looked straight into the camera on his new HBO hour and begged, "Lay off Martin Sheen!")

At the Grammys, musicians were warned to keep their mouths shut about politics, so Sheryl Crow had to content herself with a "No War" guitar strap. But this is the Academy Awards, where a long line of bigmouths have had their say on big issues, from Susan Sarandon (Haiti) to Richard Gere (Tibet) to Sacheen Littlefeather (Native Americans). And this is the sector of show biz that generates the most buzz.

Or at least it did. This year's Oscars was over before it ever begun. The Fat Man sang early. With Chicago a sure thing, there was hardly a nasty down-to-the-wire campaign to cover, since, with producing credit on four out of the five Best Picture nominations (Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), Harvey Weinstein couldn't get medieval with himself. (That would have been sadomasochism, and the Miramax magic is all about causing pain to others.)

For a brief time, there was the faint smell of an Oscar upset by The Pianist. But it was wishful thinking or swamp gas. You've got to hand it to Harv: He'll have a near-sweep. Too bad it's increasingly likely the hosannas hound will just be a picture-within-a-picture competing for TV time with U.S. military leaders at that new $200,000 Hollywood-created set for the U.S. Central Command base in Qatar (courtesy of top Tinseltown art director George Allison).

If that happens during the broadcast, then The Fat Man becomes one very small footnote, even more so if there's one very big boycott by the movie community. As they also said during the Vietnam era, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."LA

If you want to contact Nikki Finke, send her an e-mail.