Hollywood Toasts Itself, Hardly Bats an Eye at Protesters

The show biz must go on - a letter from Oscar night

CELEBRITIES are America's royalty, which means nobody watches out for its stars like Hollywood.

One of the town's most famous lines, "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" (from "The Wizard of Oz," 1939), came to mind as I made my way past two groups who were trying to disrupt the Oscar ceremonies outside Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Monday night. One, the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle, held placards reading, "Clean up your act, Hollywood" and "Down with dirty movies."

The other group, which calls itself Queer Nation, was demanding honest and more-varied depictions of gays and lesbians in mainstream movies.

The placards were pointed from opposite directions and competed in vain for the attention of arriving celebrities, who were hidden behind the dark-tinted glass of their limousines. Nor were the protesters' cries audible beneath the screams of crowds who were ogling arriving stars or the drone of helicopters that helped broadcast the proceedings to 1 billion viewers worldwide. With a line of mounted police in riot gear and four rows of limos parked in the protester's way, establishment Hollywood's respons e seemed to be: "Pay no attention to those people behind the barricade."

Once inside, I thought of the "Oz" line again as I watched the parade of Oscar winners make their way through the press rooms for obligatory questioning. Between the best-supporting actor/actress awards at the show's beginning and the best actor/actress awards at the end, almost no journalist paid attention to winners in technical categories: sound, film editing, visual effects.

When Dennis Gassner and Nancy Haigh won the Oscar for art direction in "Bugsy," the only question they got backstage was: "Was there a moment while making the film when you knew that Warren Beatty and Annette Bening were falling in love?"

Pay no attention to those creative people behind the movies, the press seemed to be saying. Give us the stars.

Likewise said Sally Field, commenting on the unprecedented success of the animated "Beauty and the Beast" - a Disney film "with no actors onscreen": "We members of the Screen Actors Guild hope this doesn't become a trend."

One foreign journalist asked George Lucas, recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, given to visionary producers: "Do those demonstrators outside have any influence on your decisions of what movies to film or how to portray who is in them?"

"I make films that I can relate to and that touch me," said Mr. Lucas, producer of the "Star Wars" trilogy. "I don't have anybody influence me from any source," he said.

Several Oscar winners - Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster among them - expressed a kind of solidarity with protesters, acknowledging the need for less typecasting across the spectrum of roles from gender to race to ethnicity. But they took issue with militant tactics.

An awareness of the incredible power of the medium to make or break such typecasting was underlined by documentary Oscar-winner Debra Chasnoff. "All movies are political," the producer said, defending her movie, "Deadly Deception," which documented alleged abuses by General Electric Corporation in radiation-caused deaths. "There are politics in every [movie] message and in the way it is crafted."

On the way out, I cut past the makeshift Big Top on the Music Center's mammoth plaza, set for the evening's Governor's Ball. Outside one tent flap sat some erstwhile protesters, placards momentarily at rest. Inside, the best of Hollywood toasted itself. As a wizened beggar asked me for a quarter, the watery gleam in his eye made me wonder if either side could afford to "pay no attention" to those people "behind the curtain."

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