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Politics at the Oscars: Support for Unions, Prosecutions for Financial Fraud

Yesterday I profiled a few of the actors who made it out to Wisconsin in solidarity with union workers whose rights were threatened. I had a sense that spirit would find its way into the Oscars last night, and it did. Hollywood isn’t actually a super-liberal town, but it’s a big union town. On any given day in Hollywood, one out of three people who work in film and television are out of work. They depend on the union to keep their benefits secure during times that would otherwise be difficult. And that class consciousness played out last night:

At the Academy Awards tonight, best cinematography winner Wally Pfister made a point during his acceptance speech of thanking his union crew on “Inception.”

Backstage he went further, expressing shock at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal, which would limit union’s collective bargaining powers. Opponents of the plan have been protesting at the state capitol for 21 days.

“I think that what is going on in Wisconsin is kind of madness right now,” Pfister says. “I have been a union member for 30 years and what the union has given to me is security for my family. They have given me health care in a country that doesn’t provide health care and I think unions are a very important part of the middle class in America all we are trying to do is get a decent wage and have medical care.”

Anyone in Wisconsin at that rally on Saturday could have said that. By the way, Hollywood has played a role in busting unions over the past several years by adding non-union reality shows to the TV schedule. Reality organizing has had many ups and downs, mostly downs, in the past decade, but the Writers Guild continues to try organizing those shows. There’s far more non-union production out here than before, but the workers in Hollywood understand how crucial unions are to their success, and will work to keep them strong.

And Pfister wasn’t the only one who brought politics into the much-watched spectacle:

The politics of the night belonged to Charles Ferguson, who won the Oscar for Best Documentary for Inside Job. He said at the end of his acceptance speech:

“Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail and that’s wrong.”

Ferguson has a very mild manner, but he is utterly fearless. He wants prosecutions, and he used one of the biggest stages in the world to ask for them.

This is one of the “simple truths” that dare not be uttered.

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David Dayen

David Dayen