Michael was right.
Can we all just agree on that point? I’m not saying we owe Michael Moore an apology for the way he was derided for his speech after winning the Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine, 10 years ago, but on this momentous anniversary, I think we can at least acknowledge that much.
On March 23, 2003, Moore made the Oscar speech heard around the world, in which he condemned George Bush for going to war in Iraq, which had just begun four days prior. And Moore was booed, stalked and threatened for it. He had to get a security detail to protect him from the death threats (some of which were encouraged by the media), and he claims that Homeland Security scratched up his Oscar at the airport on the way home.
The pro-war groupthink hysteria at the time was appalling to many of us; politicians such as Hilary Clinton and so many regular folk followed the party line. But Moore was someone willing to speak so forcefully against the war.
You can watch it below. The complete transcript follows.
On behalf of our producers Kathleen Glynn and Michael Donovan from Canada, I’d like to thank the Academy for this.?I’ve invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage with us, and we would like to — they are here — they are here in solidarity with me because we like non-fiction.
We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious President.
We — We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons.?Whether it’s the fictition of duct tape or the fictitious [sic] of orange alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush.??Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you.
And any time you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up. Thank you very much.
It’s truly incredible that the most reviled and significant aspect of this speech was Moore calling the rationale for war fictitious — at a time when, internally, the CIA was saying pretty much the same thing; that we were being duped by the President, Dick Cheney and their team of hawks.
This was the defining moment for how most Americans view him. There are those who think he’s a self-aggrandizing, liberal jerk. And then there are those of us who might not always love his approach, but will always remember that he seized the moment and stood up publicly in a way so few have ever dared to (maybe Dwight Eisenhower is in his company for condemning the military industrial complex, but he was on his way out, as opposed to being just crowned).
I’d like to give him a chest bump just for that. But, there’s more. I think it’s fair to say that that was a defining moment for documentary film. Take note that Moore’s whole speech against war was within the context of nonfiction versus fiction. He was making this profound statement as a clarion call for the documentary form. He was marking a line between people who speak for truth and those who don’t, and documentary filmmakers were positioned as the torchbearers.
If there were ever a moment that launched this new era of documentary, it was this one. At the time, Bowling for Columbine had the biggest box office draw ever for a doc, and what has followed has been a 10-year Golden Age for documentaries. Soon after that Oscar ceremony, films such as Spellbound and Winged Migration started drawing surprisingly large audiences.
Moore opened the gates. Theater owners finally began to see that documentaries could be shown, and that they could make a profit.
I remember talking to a Los Angeles colleague a few days before the ceremony, and voicing my discomfort about the festive nature of the event. To which, he chortled, “I know it’s terrible, but we’re not going to war here — We’re going to the Oscars!”
Moore gave the world a reality check when it needed it most. He had a vital impact on the dialogue about the war, and he did so much for documentary. (And, lest we forget, Bowling for Columbine was an early call for gun control; so sad that only after the massacre at Newtown has that call finally been heard).
So, I look forward to the pomp, fun and silliness of the Oscars this Sunday, but I’ll also be recognizing the significance of this 10th anniversary.