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John Doyle: What the Oscars celebrate is what fuels Trump

The Academy Awards is an overlong, outrageously pompous, ritual awards ceremony celebrating the alleged best in a storytelling form that people care less and less about. There's that. It's been that way for years.

And then there's this year's Academy Awards (Sunday, ABC, CTV, 8:30 p.m. ET), which is gluey with meaning and attendant connotation. Not nuance, mind you. Just big, broad, in-your-face significance.

It's that loaded with implications because there is a formal consensus that this year's Academy Awards are a crock. The Academy and its notions of excellence reflect a small-minded, tin-eared, out-of-touch elite who, only after being prodded and derided, acknowledged that the Oscars are so, so white.

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The event will be boycotted by several black American establishment figures and, of course, as the overlong ceremony unfolds, social media will be livid with new condemnations of the lack of diversity among the nominees. Even as a black comic, Chris Rock, hosts the event.

It's "diversity" that's the key issue. The underlying feeling being that non-white actors, writers and directors are blithely excluded. What makes it all so loaded with meaning is the political context in which it unfolds.

That Donald Trump, he's some kind of superhero, isn't he? To some people. And he's the face of a fascist intolerance of diversity to others. Why, just the other day, that mouthpiece for all that is right wing in the U.S.A., Rush Limbaugh, doubled down on his support for Trump. The election of Trump, he bellowed, is "the last chance to save American culture."

It's more than ironic that "American culture" is, as far Hollywood is concerned, epitomized by the Academy Awards and the movie industry in general. And while there has been an agonizingly apologetic response to the diversity issue from the Academy, a portion of the broader culture is enthusiastic about a leader who promises to ban Muslims, deport immigrants and erect a wall with Mexico.

So, while the Academy is being accused of being a monoculture, there is growing support for someone who promises a monoculture. Part of Rush Limbuagh's dismissal of Trump's rivals was this assertion: "This whole notion of working together, bringing the country together? We're way past that."

And the cheering for that sentiment seems to be going way beyond Limbaugh's excitable listeners and might be enough to propel Trump to the Republican nomination. When Trump says "Make America Great Again," he's talking about the kind of culture represented by the diversity-denying Academy.

It could not be more toxic and weird. And here's the rub – the kind of monoculture that Trump and his supporters crave is precisely the one that the Hollywood movie industry has been presenting to the public forever.

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You would never know how diverse the United States is from watching mainstream American movies. Action and fantasy films have white male leads. The terrorists are often either Muslim-looking or more plainly identified as Muslim. None of the heroes have an inner life, the dialogue amounts to a barking sloganeering and nobody would have been surprised if, in the past few years, the main message of one of those action heroes was "Make America Great Again."

Every prejudice that Trump and his supporters cling to has been reinforced by Hollywood movies for years. If those who support Trump have a very limited view of the world, that limited view is presented as sterling and profitable entertainment by an industry that wants the world white, fixed and non-diverse. There is, actually, a direct connection between a populist demagogue and populist entertainment.

It's possible that, come November, those who care less and less about American mainstream movies as a storytelling form will be in the minority and those who value the same old paradigm – no diversity, easy sloganeering and simple-minded answers to the world's problems – will be in the majority.

The movie industry's mask slipped when the #OscarsSoWhite controversy erupted. Hollywood is not a place peopled by progressives and nourishing liberalism. It's reactionary and narrow-minded. And it may have facilitated the rise of Donald Trump and Trumpism.

Think about that while you watch the red-carpet shenanigans and the overlong, outrageously pompous, ritual awards ceremony.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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