"When Vanessa Redgrave Did It Big Willie Style: Politicizing the Oscars to take Zionism To Task Rather than Bad Jokes about Alopecia
Tall and perfect like six oclock on the nose, Vanessa Redgrave strode gracefully to the dais on a spring night in 1978 to accept her Oscar for best supporting actress in the World War 2 drama Julia. Clutching her trophy tightly, she kissed the presenter John Travolta on both cheeks, and delivered what was – until Sunday evening last – the most polarizing and controversial Academy Awards ceremony in history.
“My dear colleagues, I thank you very, very much for this tribute to my work. I think that Jane Fonda and I have done the best work of our lives and I think this was in part due to our director, Fred Zinnemann. And I also think it's in part because we believed and we believe in what we were expressing. Two, out of millions, who gave their lives and were prepared to sacrifice everything in the fight against fascist and racist Nazi Germany. And I salute you and I pay tribute to you and I think you should be very proud that in the last few weeks you've stood firm and you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression. And I salute that record, and I salute all of you for having stood firm and dealt a final blow against that period when Nixon and McCarthy launched a worldwide witch hunt against those who tried to express in their lives and their work the truth that they believed in. I salute you, and I thank you, and I pledge to you that I will continue to fight against anti-Semitism and fascism. Thank you.”
Her remarks were directed at picketers with the Jewish Defense League who were at that moment burning her in effigy outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to protest her activism in support of the Palestinian Liberation Organization; one especially militant pro-Israeli cell had even put out a cash bounty on her life. Barely 90 seconds long, the British actresses’ acceptance speech was met with a mixed response, initially garnering a chorus of boos and hisses. By the conclusion of her stemwinder, however, any jeers were drowned out by thunderous applause, although the audience also articulated its approval of the screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky admonishment of Redgrave later in the awards ceremony.
“I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda. I would like to suggest to Ms. Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.”
Other than that they both occurred at the same Babylonian bacchanal, there are no credible comparisons to be made between Redgrave’s expression of solidarity with Palestinians living under an illegal and Godless occupation, and Will Smith’s solipsistic sucker punch to the jaw of a much smaller man in defense of his wife’s vanity; there are no dots to connect between Redgrave’s nobility and Smith’s narcissism. Yet there is much that we can learn by studying a Western culture that produced such wildly different controversies at Hollywood’s showcase event 44 years apart."