WAR AND PEACE… It's a good thing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn't bow to the tremendous pressure to cancel the March 23 Oscar telecast. Scattered throughout the three and a half hour show were not just calls for an end to war but also the bare but beautiful outline of the inclusiveness and connection that will be necessary to bring about peace in this world.
Alongside the show tunes from best picture winner Chicago (whose nominee for best supporting actress, Queen Latifah, was a transcendent hip-hop presence throughout the night), there was Eminem. The Detroit chart-topper won for best song from the heretofore stodgy Academy with 8 Mile's "Lose Yourself." Presenter Barbra Streisand let out an audible gasp when she announced it, a delicious sound that hopefully will be sampled on Em's next album. Best Actor Adrien Brody (also a hip-hop DJ who goes by A Ranger) won for best actor playing a Polish musician on the run under fascism while legendary singer Caetano Veloso, who was once imprisoned by a U.S.-backed government in his native Brazil, performed.
Overall, there was much more of an international flavor at the Oscars than in years past. Other than American, the strongest flavors were Irish and Mexican. The Irish were represented by Peter O'Toole, who received an honorary Oscar, and the relentless if unrewarded string of nominations for Gangs of New York. Most important was Irish actor Colin Farrell, wearing a peace button, and the band he introduced with such great passion, U2. Their performance of their own song from Gangs of New York, "The Hands That Built America," drove home the expenditure of Irish flesh and blood in the construction of America's industrial infrastructure.
Mexico's contributions revolved around Frida, the story of Mexican painter and revolutionary Frida Kahlo. Selma Hayek, best actress nominee in the title role, comes from the state of Vera Cruz, invaded by the U.S. in 1918 to get control of Mexico's oil. Lila Downs dueted with Caetano Veloso on the film's "Burn It Blue" and Y Tu Mama Tambien star Gael Garcia Bernal insisted on-air that Frida Kahlo would have "been with us in opposing the war in Iraq." Beatrice de Alba, whose makeup work on Frida won an Oscar, dedicated her victory "to Hispanic women everywhere." Standing on a stage in the middle of Los Angeles, home to countless Mexican immigrants, de Alba's words were a link to those Irish immigrants in Gangs of New York.
And that link is not just symbolic. During the Mexican-American War, an Irish regiment of U.S. soldiers, men who came directly out of the gangs of New York, sided with the Mexican army at a time when Mexico had opened its borders to runaway slaves.
Can we reach that level of international unity today in pursuit of peace? That's where things get tricky because we have to first define what we're going to unite around. Take the ad hoc crew of rock, country, and rap stars ranging from Capone & Noreaga to Dave Matthews to Roseanne Cash who make up Musicians United to Win Without War. That group called on the U.N. to "Disarm Iraq With Tough Inspections." While we'd all prefer inspections to the invasion that's occurred, disarming Iraq will not make the world any more peaceful.
As detailed in the hot-selling comic-styled book, Addicted to War by Joel Andreas, it's the United States that is far and away the world's biggest depository and exporter of heavy weaponry (a lot of it went to Iraq). War is no longer simply the policy of this or that administration, it's imbedded in our economy. That doesn't cause problems only for Iraqis (or likely new invasion targets Colombia and the Philippines). The military takes up 50.5% of federal discretionary spending in America, compared to 8% for education ("No wonder there's no toilet paper!" says a student in Addicted to War).
To have peace, we must change these priorities. Until schools are more
important than smart bombs, until health care and housing are more important
than helicopter gunships, there will be only war without end.
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