- - Thursday, March 1, 2018

Performers and other artists often take a back seat to the cause du jour at modern-day award shows.

Immigration. Sexual harassment. Gun control. Health care. The impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. Oh, and by the way, here’s the statue for best fill-in-the-blank.

The Academy Awards telecast Sunday likely will offer a fresh round of urgent liberal causes. But will all that heartfelt, “spontaneous” messaging advance the case in the court of public opinion?

The producers of this year’s Oscar show have told The New York Times to expect less politics and more focus on the films in question. That’s understandable, since the same newspaper revealed how awards show ratings plummet when artists climb onto a soapbox.

Their vow may be somewhat disingenuous all the same.

The Oscars will be hosted, once again, by Jimmy Kimmel. The ABC-TV talk show host took a hard-left turn last year, and his base may demand more of the same. Honorees will likely follow suit, just as they did during last year’s Oscar ceremony held shortly after Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

Derek Hunter, contributing editor at The Daily Caller, predicts that the soiree will be even more political than in recent years. Hollywood stars can’t help themselves, Mr. Hunter said, and going on the attack on politics could divert attention from the industry’s entrenched problems.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal, revealing widespread sexual harassment and abuse behind the scenes, continues to cast a massive shadow over the industry.

In the run-up to the awards ceremony, conservative street artist and provocateur Sabo reminded Tinseltown on Wednesday of its complicity in the Weinstein scandal.

Taking a page from best picture nominee “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Sabo draped three billboards in Hollywood with tarps that read, “And the Oscar for biggest pedophile goes to …,” “We all knew and still no arrests” and “Name names on stage or shut the hell up!”

Mr. Hunter said the fact that “last year’s best actor winner [Casey Affleck] won’t be there to present [the best actress award] this year won’t go unnoticed.”

Mr. Affleck settled lawsuits from two female colleagues who accused him of sexually inappropriate behavior during the making of his 2010 mockumentary “I’m Still Here.”

Gun control, Mr. Hunter predicts, will be the main talking point, “with Parkland fresh in everyone’s mind and so many celebrities cutting checks and tweeting for gun control.” He was referring to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that left 17 people dead.

“It’s a safe issue in that room, unlike sexual harassment,” he said.

Mr. Trump also will be name-checked in less-than-hospitable fashion, Mr. Hunter predicts.

“Expect to hear the word ‘bully’ and have any mention of the Hollywood sexual harassment scandal be tempered with a mention of the allegations against the president,” he said. “That’s the only way they’ll address the elephant in the room.”

Conservatives may bristle at such sound bites, but others in the audience may be more open to the messages in play. Last year’s telecast proved a ratings disappointment but still attracted roughly 32 million viewers.

Melanie Ulle, CEO of the Denver-based consulting firm Philanthropy Expert, said the stars would be wise to adopt a disciplined approach throughout the three-hour gala.

“The most effective way for them to do something that actually packs a punch is to offer a unified message around one issue or area and not try to tell a bunch of different issues,” Ms. Ulle said.

Better still? Make sure there is an organization or nonprofit ready to benefit from the A-list pitch. Channeling resources to Time’s Up, the new legal fund aimed at protecting women targeted by harassers, “would be really smart,” she added.

It’s not that easy, though. The industry’s checkered history with casting couches and much worse leaves stars vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.

Ms. Ulle sees promoting gun control legislation as a different matter, even though many stars have made their fortunes on the backs of violent gun franchises. Even Mr. Trump appears open to new rules overseeing how citizens flex their Second Amendment rights.

That’s an opening for liberal stars, she said.

“If I were one of those Hollywood stars to accept an award … showing solidarity with the [Parkland] students [promoting gun control] would be the most historical thing one can do because there’s a chance for actual public policy change,” she said.

Kris Putnam-Walkerly, president of the philanthropy-based Putnam Consulting Group, said actors shouldn’t simply spout off on the latest headlines like they do on Twitter.

Stars should choose their causes carefully, making sure they understand the issues surrounding them above and beyond a simple sound bite, she said.

“It’s risky to come out in support or against something without thinking through the issue,” Ms. Putnam-Walkerly said.

Actors are willing to make those kinds of risks, and with good reason, she said.

“A speech can ignite a movement given at the Oscars or given anywhere,” she said. “You never quite know when it’s going to be that tipping point.”

Some may mock Hollywood for its aggressive activism, particularly in a venue with no room for rebuttals. Mr. Hunter said these moments still serve a purpose in the social media age.

“Each stump speech will be its own clip and circulated to its respective audience,” Mr. Hunter said. “The people tuning in will expect to be lectured; everyone else won’t watch. I expect the latter to be the larger group.”

Victor Morton contributed to this report

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