He’s not the only one missing the show: Hala Kamil, the Syrian subject of the Best Documentary Short nominee Waitani: My Homeland, also cannot enter the U.S. under the executive order, and neither can the subjects of The White Helmets, another Documentary Short nominee about the Syrian refugee crisis. Their absence, and Hollywood’s generally outspoken response to President Trump, will make for a charged Oscar ceremony, similar to last weekend’s SAG Awards, where many of the night’s presenters and winners took the opportunity to speak out against the executive order. In response, some dramatic options have been floated: a boycott, or even canceling the ceremony altogether. But these ideas overlook the fundamental purpose of the Oscars, which—despite sometimes missing the mark—recognize some of the best cinema Hollywood has to offer, including films that deserve greater exposure.
The suggestion that the Oscars be canceled this year stems in part from principle. The idea of artists being barred from attending the ceremony because of their country of origin is markedly against the global principles of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Though it’s often derided for its stodgy choices, the Best Foreign Language Film category does bring wider attention to international filmmaking. The Academy called Trump’s executive order “extremely troubling” in a statement, adding that the group “celebrates achievement in the art of filmmaking, which seeks to transcend borders and speak to audiences around the world, regardless of national, ethnic, or religious differences.”
As a result, some critics and moviegoers are suggesting the awards be scrapped, as a grander, symbolic gesture. The prospect of not holding a ceremony at all, as explored by Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff this week, is an interesting one. Though it’s often decried as a “liberal Hollywood bubble,” the Academy Awards are watched by far more than just coastal elites. Their cancelation would be noticed around the country, though perhaps it wouldn’t be as deeply felt as the loss of, say, the Super Bowl. (A general boycott by nominees would also provoke widespread discussion, but would be even harder to coordinate.)
The last time the Academy Awards abutted a huge moment in current events were in 2003, when the 75th Academy Awards aired just days after the beginning of the Iraq War. That ceremony was a subdued one, with barely any red-carpet festivities, but it aired as scheduled despite pleas from broadcaster ABC to delay it. That alone should indicate that the chances of the Oscar telecast ever being canceled, let alone delayed, are essentially zero. The ceremony is, after all, a crucial moneymaker for the Academy, which uses the revenue to pursue its other activities, such as film restoration and sponsoring fellowships for young writers and directors.