POZ Exclusives : Oscar Goes RED—But Not for AIDS

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February 25, 2008

Oscar Goes RED—But Not for AIDS

Still, POZ manages to crash the party—with a nominated film based on our Iraq reporting

POZ senior editor Laura Whitehorn got us all excited. In the days leading up to last night’s 80th annual Academy Awards ceremony, she pointed out that we finally have Best Picture nominees that could describe life with HIV. It is a life, too often, of blame and atonement. (Bear with us here.) What’s more, if you believe a recent New York Times cover story on HIV and aging, it is no country for old men (and women). And, of course, there will be bloodwork, and plenty of it. Indeed, so much red gushed throughout last night’s 80th annual ceremonies that AIDS-savvy viewers could be forgiven for thinking Bono had a hand in it. The color was everywhere —from Best Supporting Actress winner Tilda Swinton’s hair, to La Vie en Rose, to the scarlet gowns of Ruby Dee, Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana, Anne Hathaway, Katherine Heigl and Heidi Klum, who announced that her crimson Galliano number would be auctioned afterward for a medical charity (women’s heart awareness). But if you were looking for any awareness-raising mention of AIDS itself, it was gone, baby. Gone.

Every year, AIDS activists hope that the Oscars will somehow re-embrace the mainstream advocacy of a previous era—when Tom Hanks won Best Actor for playing an HIV-positive lawyer in Philadelphia; when Bruce Davison was nominated for playing a gay, HIV-positive man who soothes his dying lover in Longtime Companion; when the magnificent Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt was named Best Documentary; and when Elizabeth Taylor delivered a legendary call to arms upon winning the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. But every year, activists awake to the same, post-show hangover—and start dreaming of next year.

There was, briefly, a sign of hope last evening. For instance: Just what was Best Actress nominee Julie Christie wearing on her daringly calf-length dress? Her brooch looked suspiciously like a red ribbon. And as the camera kept panning to Christie in the audience before her category was announced, the possibility mounted that, if she won, she might somehow work AIDS into her acceptance speech. (Though it seemed more likely that she’d mention Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that afflicted the character she played in her nominated role.)

But she didn’t win—and, it turns out, the ribbon (which was deceptively orange) symbolized another cause, as ribbons often do these days. To the disappointment of red-carpet bloggers who’d hastily concluded “Hey, that’s an AIDS ribbon—haven’t seen one of those in a while” or “Julie Christie made the first political statement of the evening with an AIDS ribbon,” she told a reporter: “[The ribbon represents] the American Civil Liberties Union campaign to close Guantanamo [Bay], so it’s a very, very important issue... It’s affecting the whole world.” She was referring to the Cuban prison camp the U.S. opened in 2002—as was, we can only guess, Alex Gibney, who wore a similar ribbon when accepting his award for Best Documentary. But at the Oscars these days, accidental AIDS activism may have to do.

This is not to suggest that those who care deeply about AIDS believe that their cause is the only one worth noting. Last year’s Al Gore-colored Oscars, for instance, were decidedly green. But seeing all the Diet Coke ads last night for cardiovascular empowerment, one couldn’t help but wonder: How can p.r.-starved AIDS activists reclaim their color from a can of artificially sweetened soda?

All the more reason, then, to cheer another Oscar also-ran film, Sari’s Mother, a 21-minute film about HIV in wartime Iraq nominated last night as best documentary short. Based on a riveting article that appeared in the October 2003 issue of POZ, it traces an Iraqi mother’s efforts to care for her HIV-positive son amid that country’s crumbling health care system. (The film lost to an equally riveting tale, Freehold, which traces the efforts of a dying lesbian police officer to obtain benefits for her partner.) But what could have been a victory, even in loss, was prevented when the telecast’s producers chose to omit any mention of the film’s content. To viewers who felt mugged by the Oscar show’s length, our suggestion that the program mention each of these worthy plotlines may seem as crazy as Sweeney Todd himself. But, hey, it’s not every day a POZ story—or any story about an HIV-positive person—makes it to the Oscars.

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