Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

The Infamous Oscar Speech Heard Around the World

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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.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Anonymous

    Michael Moore is such an important American voice, a real idea man with such a sense of humor. Michael didn’t “open the gates” for the golden age of documentary films, he kicked it down and we all have benefited. Why all the apologies for admiring him, Tom?

    • Doc Soup Man

      We live in an era when there’s overwhelming chatter for every milestone, every time the wind blows, but where’s the chorus acknowledging this signficant 10th anniversary? I don’t hear it.

  • A Qui Tam Relator

    Anyone that lived through the Vietnam era knew that Michael Moore was correct in the fabrication of war, McNamera even fessed up to the truth of a fabricated war and of course if anyone was paying attention back in the 60′s & 70′s the Daniel Elsberg Trial. “Hubris” by the way should win this years award, that is sooo much truth it hurts ! Bravo Michael Moore for sustaining such a rude and pompous crowd of Extreamly Rich and Privilaged Sheeple but you held your head high because you and millions of other Americans knew the real truth and its more obvious today then your acceptance speech. And to the Ultra Rich in the room that night “You Bunch Of Bone-Heads !”

  • Richard

    Every film, every “radical statement” that Michael Moore makes is always proven as truth within a few short years.

  • A Qui Tam Relator Reagan’s Trickle-Down Economics and the “Meese” Crowd” knew it was to line the pockets of the rich and was never intended to trickle down to the middle class and the poor. Another Lie !

    • ms

      Hey instead of waiting for things that aren’t yours to trickle down to you why don’t you go earn/make/create something?

  • Nadine Lumley

    I was so proud of him when he did that but I had no idea about the threats to his life until I read his book about his childhood, I highly recommend it, very good reading:


  • 095

    Sometimes we in Europe feel like Michael Moore is the only sober voice in the USA. However slowly though, things are changing. Michael’s courage and integrity have always been and remain phenomenal.

    • Jonah

      Europe is no different than the USA. Your leaders, and people wear a mask to hide the fact that you’re just like us. You preach liberal values, and equality for all, yet use cheap overseas labor to progress the capitalist machine that is the European Union.

      • m

        Liberalism in general tends to serve the purpose of easing the masses with the rhetoric of treating symptoms. Only the most idiotic of the capitalists turn further right, mistaking the rhetoric for content like so many among the middle class.

      • Phil

        Europe may be just as neo-liberal as the States, but that’s not really the point. So is pretty much the entire world. But influential European nations (France, Germany) stood up against the Iraq war. There are always nuances, “we’re all as bad as each other” is a lazy argument.

        • Jonah

          As opposed to suggesting that we ARE just the same, but somehow better than YOU cause our transgressions are lesser. Right, you would know lazy.

        • MS

          France stood up against the war because they had billion dollar weapons deals to provide Saddam with every thing from helicopters to Nuclear Reactors. China did because they had deals to provide and develop fiber-optic communications systems to replace Iraqs vulnerable above ground systems. Russia did because of oil deals and weapons deals for sophisticated smart-bomb missile jamming devices. So stop pretending anyone opposed the wars for any thing different then America was in favor of it; self-interest.

          What is most interesting is if America hadn’t invaded, Iraq would be armed to the teeth now and impossible to invade due to efforts of our ‘allies’ who made trillions of it and then would be screaming for us to come save them when he went after the very oil in the region people claimed was the only reason we went to war in the first place.

          You didn’t stand up against the war. you stood up for profits. Sounds very…. American… of you.

      • Bill Owen

        US has killed 20 to 30 million people since WWII, but to the jingos, Belgium is the problem. I will wait while you look up Belgium.

    • Jonah

      Oh, and you kill around the world in the name of freedom and justice, but have ulterior motives…just like us.

  • Anoushka

    Great Article. I remember all that very well.

  • Neal Romanek

    Great piece! I was there at the Oscar show that night and – though it might not have come through in the broadcast – there were an awful lot of people applauding and cheering him in that room. But then the boo-ers got louder and louder. But the very worst people were the ones who were silent.

  • Vicki Vancouver

    Tom: I could die happy seeing Moore as President. It would take someone to capture the world’s imagination to turn things around. Great article.

  • Brian

    The part I’ve always found strangest about the lead up to the war is how we’ve rewritten history now looking back at it. We were not “fooled” that we were going to Iraq because of WMD’s. And it wasn’t regarded as a conspiracy theory to think there weren’t any. Some people went along for the ride and chose to ignore what was going on, but there was a large consensus that Bush was just looking for justification for starting a war he’d already decided to have.

  • Luis Almeida

    For me, in this distant and opposite side of the Atlantic ( Lisbon, Portugal), Mike shares a place among a minority of American brave citizen who function like Pinnocchio’s little cricket. They are America’s conscience, they are the morally noble part of America. And this, by itself, makes them the true patriots…

  • edd

    Michael Moore had the balls to oppose to Bush’s wars! Now it’s easy to critice Bush because he left office but in those hard times nobody says a word except this man.

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  • Bram Wolfe

    Loved this article. Thanks for making it.

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  • ck

    Mike Moore is perhaps the most misleading and dishonest “documentarian” there is. The fictitious nature of Bowling for Columbine should have exempted it from consideration for the award it won.

    Whether you support his views or not, take a good hard look into whatever the fat man says, most often you will find that he justifies the ends by means of flat out lies. BfC was full of editing tricks which are used to splice different speeches together, it splices 2 adverts (one by the Bush administration and another by an independent org.) and claims that the invented advert was wholly funded by the Bush admin. The bank scene was carefully crafted by lying to the bank which does give guns away with account openings, however the guns are not stored on site (unlike what mike wants you to believe in the interview where the teller says there are 500 or so guns in the vault, key point being that the vault is not on site), the guns arrive via licensed firearms dealers at a later date… This not to mention that the store was told that the interview was by someone doing a story about unique businesses…

    These are only a few lies which can be seen in BfC, there are far too many to list here, look it up for yourself, do not believe the big boy’s rhetoric which is designed to deceive. Look into this steaming heap of crap that duped the academy into giving an award meant for non-fiction documentaries to a very fictitious entertainment flick and you will find lies on top of lies, just look into it.

    My point is not that the movie is biased. The point is that Moore commits grossly unethical practices when he lies on purpose, misrepresents himself to interviewees, shoves words into peoples mouths through cheap editing tricks, all to mislead the public. The man is the Criss Angel of documentarians…

    • john649

      zzzzzzzzz, Moore’s movies are a refreshing change from the constant corporate propaganda pushed onto us by just about everyone.

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  • Some Body

    Notice them fading in the music before he’s finished. Shameful!

    They voted for him, expecting him to keep to the rules of blind patriotism. The way they reacted to his speech was not the Academy’s finest hour.

    We are watching.

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