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Last Updated:  Friday, 21 March, 2003, 09:44 GMT
Oscars feel war pressure

By Ian Youngs
in Los Angeles

Debate is raging over whether the Oscars should be used as an anti-war platform - and whether they should go ahead at all.

In any normal year, saying that Hollywood did not care about the Oscars would be absurd.

The red carpet area outside the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood
The red carpet area is being scaled down
But this year, with war in Iraq underway, the appetite for glitz and glamour, for celebration and parties, has disappeared. From the nominees down to the fans on the street, no-one's heart is in it.

"Who cares about Oscar?" is a common view on the streets of Los Angeles.

So is "the show must go on".

Some people say they want it to go ahead as a symbol of normality or as an opportunity for winners to convey messages of peace to millions around the world.

You can't have anything more American than the Oscars - that's why our boys are fighting and dying
Michael Moore
Nominated film-maker
Opinion is split between whether the ceremony should still be staged, and risk appearing grossly out of touch with the national mood, or postponed, in which case the biggest symbol of the United States' global popularity could seen to be beaten by the war against terror.

Organisers are currently determined that a more low-key affair - without the red carpet and talk of designer dresses - will go ahead.

But the choice could yet be taken out of their hands. If many big stars pull out, it would be hard for the ceremony to continue with no winners to collect their awards or presenters to hand them out.

Will Smith, who was due to present an award, became the first to withdraw on Thursday when he said he felt "uncomfortable" about attending.

Since then, there have been rumours around Tinsel Town that other big names would follow suit.

Pedro Almodovar
Pedro Almodovar: Expected to make anti-war speech if he wins
But some of the most outspoken anti-war nominees have said they would not boycott the big night.

Michael Moore, who is nominated for his documentary Bowling For Columbine, wrote a book denouncing President Bush called Stupid White Men.

"I'm definitely going," he said. "You can't have anything more American than the Oscars - that's why our boys are fighting and dying."

He said more and more people in Hollywood were speaking out, "not just the usual suspects". "If I win, I will say what's on my mind at the moment," he said.

Other nominees against the US attack in Iraq include Martin Scorsese, Daniel Day-Lewis, The Pianist star Adrien Brody, Chicago director Rob Marshall and actress Kathy Bates.

Of those lined up to present awards, political comments could come from Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman - who have both voiced concerns - and Harrison Ford, one of the few stars to speak out in support of President Bush.

I honestly think the Academy should just cancel it - I'm not in the mood for celebrating
Carlos Cuaron
Nominated scriptwriter
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, who made a strong anti-war speech at the UK's Bafta Awards, has said he had mixed feelings on taking part in the ceremony, but that he would still turn up.

He, too, is likely to use the podium for political purposes if he wins best director or best original screenplay.

Another shortlisted director, Stephen Daldry, has said he would make an anti-war statement if he was named winner for The Hours.

One nominee, Mexican scriptwriter Carlos Cuaron, told BBC News Online he would send a peace message from the podium if he won, and that most of Hollywood was openly against war.

"An Oscars ceremony is so frivolous under the shadow of this terrible war, and I honestly think the Academy should just cancel it. I'm not in the mood for celebrating," he said.

Kodak Theatre, Hollywood
There will be tight security at the ceremony if it goes ahead
Chicago costume designer Colleen Atwood said most people at the event would be against the war.

"The whole idea of having this huge celebration is kind of weird. But I feel I have to go because it's huge recognition for any artist," she said.

"The world is watching and whatever people [want to say], they have a right to say - this is America."

As the debate about the fate of the 2003 Oscars hung in the balance, a string of stars gathered at a "peace party" in the Los Angeles hills on Thursday to support a new movement, Global Vision For Peace.

Actress Drew Barrymore read a statement from the Dalai Lama while many guests sported the movement's dove-shaped peace pins, which stars including Streep, Kidman and Day-Lewis have pledged to wear at the ceremony.

Global Vision For Peace co-founders Xorin Balbes and Cliff Rothman said the ceremony should not be cancelled because it could be used to spread the message of peace.

"The Oscar telecast is the largest global medium, and we felt that to use that medium as the vessel to get out the message of peace was really significant," Mr Rothman said.

"When you see prominent Americans standing up for peace in a powerful way, I think it makes a powerful statement."

As pressure on the Academy from all sides increases, the war has served as a reminder to the film industry that not everything has a Hollywood ending, and that there is more to life than designer dresses and golden statuettes.

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