Last week, the Academy of Motion Pictures announced that for the first time in decades that the Oscars would abandon its traditional format of having a celebrity host. The decision was made after comedian Kevin Hart reaffirmed his decision to withdrawal from the nomination while on Ellen DeGeneres’ daily talk show. Which brings us to the topic of this column. Ellen DeGeneres.
Historically, the annual Academy Awards has endured periods of both fallow and flourishment, subject to, among other things, the eminence of movies in a given year. But for the past half-decade, the Oscars’ ratings have withered dramatically. Last year, the overall audience dipped below 30 million for the first time.
It’s imprudent to attribute the annual ceremony’s decline to any one singular impetus; there are several. However, if the Oscars are ever to recover, it is important to address one specific foible. At each Academy Awards ceremony over the past few years, there’s been a giant elephant in the room. Its bottom half is always red, and the top half blue, donning three white stars. It’s the Republican Elephant.
No matter the host, or the subject of films nominated, every Oscars ceremony in recent history has had one common theme: browbeating and haranguing Republicans from an ostensible moral high ground — and you don’t need to look hard for examples.
Just minutes into his opening monologue at last year’s Oscars, host Jimmy Kimmel called President Trump a racist, claiming the first three-fourths of “Get Out” — a thriller about psychopathic white people hypnotizing and enslaving black people — was Trump’s favorite movie.
At this year’s Golden Globes — the precursor to the Oscars — Christian Bale, accepting the best actor award for his portrayal of former Vice President Dick Cheney in the movie “Vice,” thanked Satan (that’s not his father’s name; the actual, Biblical Satan) for “inspiration.”
Movie award ceremonies shouldn’t be subject to the insipid political musings of Jimmy Kimmel or Meryl Streep. If people want to hear left-of-center political ramblings, they can do that any time by changing the channel to CNN. Conversely, there’s “The Daily Show” (hosted by Trevor Noah); “The Late Show” (hosted by Stephen Colbert); or “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” just to name a few.
This brings us back to Ellen DeGeneres. DeGeneres’ show is enjoyed across America, by both liberals and conservatives. A 2013 poll revealed that Ellen DeGeneres was on par with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly as the most popular TV personality amongst Republicans. This is why Ellen DeGeneres should host the Oscars this year. The ratings speak for themselves: Since the start of the millennium, ratings have peaked exactly three times for the lux gala, two of which were times hosted by DeGeneres.
DeGeneres’ success as a host largely derives from her innate ability to lighten the atmosphere in any setting or situation. Despite her tremendously fruitful career — earning a whopping 77-million-dollar salary — she’s never met an audience she couldn’t connect with. She’s one of the few Hollywood successes who, despite receiving reams of accolades, doesn’t consider herself a holier-than-thou arbiter of morality.
Though DeGeneres has hitherto reprimanded Trump, proclaiming that he was “against everything she stood for,” DeGeneres has always kept her personal political views off her show, and out of her public persona more broadly, opting to instead capture audiences with her genial and witty personality. Eschewing jokes at the expense of others, she once famously said, “Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense, and I find that’s just a form of bullying.”
The best-rated Oscars in decades (2014) did not disappoint. DeGeneres brought her amiable, charismatic persona, whirling jokes at the audience. While other hosts addressed the up-in-arms brigade of indignation at the Oscar’s meager diversity through pedantic, preachy lectures, DeGeneres instead did what she does best. She made a joke about it: “Anything could happen tonight! So many possibilities! Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two: you’re all racists. And now, please welcome our first white presenter, Anne Hathaway.”
There’s no evidence that DeGeneres harbors any hostility to Republicans or political conservatives. On the contrary, DeGeneres staffs an (openly!) conservative, Republican-voting (again, openly!) writer on her show: Adam Yenser. Last December, Yenser wrote a comedy skit directed by The Daily Wire’s own Paul Bois lampooning a societal sacred cow: the fringes of the #MeToo movement.
Earlier this January, Jon Levine penned an op-ed for the New York Post suggesting that the Oscars need more than an abandonment of politics. They need a whole new approach. Arguing that a conservative firebrand — James Woods — would be medicine for the award show’s near decade long trend of decline. “He [James Woods] may not be the host you want, but for struggling awards shows, he’s what America needs.”
As tempting as that sounds — flipping the Oscars on its head, handing the ceremonial reigns to a Trump-loving Republican — it’s as likely to happen as Hillary Clinton headlining the next Republican National Convention. The issue isn’t that the annual ceremony has been plagued by the wrong flavor of politics. The issue is that divisive, partisan politics have slithered into a cultural celebration of cinema in the first place.
The Oscars don’t need to become a conservative convention. It’s not preferable to have right-leaning actors like Vince Vaughn or Clint Eastwood take to the stage and flaunt their political views any more than to have Jimmy Kimmel deliver an opening monologue deriding the President as a racist.
The Oscars are a seminal celebration of culture in America. They should acknowledge and award creativity, talent, and art — all things that transcend petty political differences. And in an era where those political differences have become potently polarized, the Oscar’s ought to be an event of unity. Ellen DeGeneres’ down-to-earth, good-natured and witty humor livened and lightened the Oscars twice before; they should do it again.
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