Oscar’s Road to the Capitol

There has always been an express lane from Hollywood Boulevard to Pennsylvania Avenue. In fact, just today, we have stories that House Minority Leader Pelosi is briefing Hollywood stars on her plans to retake the majority in the house. The Oscar nominations this year epitomize the connection between politics and entertainment.  In an exciting election year, Hollywood played its part – giving audiences five political films nominated for Best Picture. Most years, the Best Picture race includes at least one political film.  But, in and around the Presidential elections, the volume of political content increases.

And, within this year’s Oscar class, and in an election year, we have an opportunity to observe the strong ties between our stars and our leaders.  In 2012, Hollywood celebrities took to the campaign trail.  A handful of stars spoke at each of the major party conventions, including Best Picture nominee Django Unchained’s supporting actress Kerry Washington.  Collectively, the celebrities in Hollywood donated over $4.8 million to various campaigns and public interest groups.  One of the leading voices in politics happens to be one of the leading Oscar nominees – Steven Spielberg.  In 2012, he donated over $1.2 million to various campaigns – but his lifetime political donations are nearly twice as much.  He is joined by Supporting Actress Sally Field and writer Tony Kushner, also staunch political activists.

Interestingly, one of the most politically controversial films of the year, Zero Dark Thirty, does not have any major donors in 2012. In fact, the only public disclosures included three donations totaling $550 from Director Kathryn Bigelow, the most recent in 2004.  Chastain has never given, despite her appearances on the political talk circuit as she plugs her film.  It was not just Chastain on the political talkshows; writer Mark Boal and director Bigelow, have also done the Sunday morning news rounds.  Reports from Washington indicate that the Senate has launched an investigation into how the film had access to certain information.  And, political press continue to debate the film’s depiction of extreme interrogation methods.  Defending the film every step of the way is the studio.  Sony Pictures Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton has written letters to Congress and has tapped his political network to defend his film.  As for the money-trail, Lynton was a top Obama bundler at $350,000.

Other top donor / nominees this year include Anne Hathaway, who was a leading donor to various Democratic races.  She is one of the few stars (and the only Les Miserables major nominee) who is American, and thus she’s the only one who could donate directly to campaigns.  Silver Lining’s Playbook’s Producer, Harvey Weinstein, is another major donor.  He bundled for Obama as well, raising over $700,000.

Finally, one of the leading political narratives belonged to Argo.  Director and Star Ben Affleck may have been snubbed by the Academy in both those categories, but as we’ve mentioned this week – his film is now on track as one of the leaders for Best Picture.  Affleck has a long history of activism.  In 2012, he limited his direct contributions to maximizing his donations to Massachusetts senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.  His wife, Jennifer Garner, gave to the DNC.