The war in Ukraine has dominated news cycles and prompted statements of solidarity from members of the film and TV industry in the run-up to the Oscars. Through the years, politics and the Oscars have gone hand in hand, and war has frequently been part of the backdrop, from World War II — when the actual statuettes were made of plaster due to metal shortages — to Vietnam, a tumultuous period that on various occasions spilled into the broadcast.
Still, during the televised era three events particularly stand out: The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981, and the onset of the Iraq war in 2003.
In the first two instances, the awards were postponed briefly, and there was discussion of doing so in 2003. (The Oscars were delayed one other time because of flooding in 1938.)
A look back at each of those events, and the effect they had on the ceremony.
1968: The King assassination
Because there was no way for them to make it there in time, the Academy pushed back the ceremony from April 8 to April 10 and canceled its Governors Ball. The organization’s then-president, Gregory Peck, began the telecast by paying tribute to King.
1981: Reagan is shot
Reagan was actually scheduled to open the ceremony with a segment taped in the White House about the worldwide reach of the Oscars and movies. Many of those attending the awards were particularly shaken, having known Reagan from his time as an actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild.
“That old adage ‘The show must go on’ seemed relatively unimportant,” Carson said in opening the telecast, saying that the president was in “excellent condition” and that it was his “expressed wishes” that the producers use his taped introduction, which they did.
“Film is forever,” Reagan said, echoing the show’s theme that year, adding to laughs, “I’ve been trapped in some film forever myself.”
2003: The Iraq invasion
The Times described the days leading up to the awards as “one of the strangest and most stressful weeks in Oscar history.” The show proceeded, but the red carpet was eliminated along with the temporary bleachers for fans to watch the star arrivals.
Additional controversy occurred during the show when Michael Moore accepted his best documentary Oscar for “Bowling for Columbine.” Moore denounced the war — calling President George W. Bush “a fictitious president,” and saying, “Shame on you, Mr. Bush,” which triggered boos from the crowd and resulted in the filmmaker being hurried off the stage.
Three times when real events challenged The Oscars