Oscars ceremony wins honours for best political platform

HOLLYWOOD, still preening after its vocal role in the election of President Bill Clinton, has begun flexing its political muscle with the most outspoken and topical Oscars ceremony for years. Stars concluded 1 billion viewers were too good an opportunity to miss, and made use of their fleeting moments in the spotlight to hold forth on topics ranging from human rights abuses in Tibet, to HIV- positive Haitians and Panama.

It was almost a revival of the era, during the 1970s, when the Academy Awards promised the possibility of something genuinely provocative and unplanned - for instance, when Marlon Brando refused an Oscar as a protest about the treatment of American Indians or when Vanessa Red grave was loudly booed for a speech supporting Palestinians.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had, unfortunately, dedicated the year to women in the movies, only to find that it produced a dismal collection of female roles. So it was inevitable that women should be a theme. Emma Thompson, 33, accepting the Oscar for Best Actress for Howards End, one of the few decent parts, dedicated her trophy to the 'heroism and courage of women, and to hope that it inspires the creation of more screen heroines to represent them'. Later she described the year as one of the worst for women in film history.

More unexpectedly, the Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, was upbraided by Richard Gere, star of Pretty Woman and a Buddhist, who accused him of presiding over horrendous human rights abuses in Tibet and China. 'If something miraculous, really kind of movie-like, could happen here where we could all kind of send love and truth and kind of sanity to Deng Xiaoping right now in Peking . . .' he fantasised.

It is unclear whether Mr Deng was glued to the three-and-a-half hour ceremony, but Mr Clinton had promised to watch and will have heard Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins attack the US government's decision to detain 266 HIV-positive Haitians at a US naval base in Cuba.

He will have noted, too, the most radical speech of the lot, from Barbara Trent, co-producer of The Panama Deception, a scathing attack on the US invasion of Panama which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. The movie has not been widely seen in the US because public television has refused to broadcast it. It was dedicated, she said, to the hundreds of Panamanians who died in the invasion 'whose stories might never otherwise be told because of the deceptive practices and tactics of our government with the complicity . . . of the major media'.

Best picture: Unforgiven; director: Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven); actor: Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman); actress: Emma Thompson (Howards End); supporting actor: Gene Hackman (Unforgiven); supporting actress: Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny); foreign language film: Indochine (France); original screenplay: Neil Jordan (The Crying Game); animated short: Joan C Gratz (Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase); live action short: Sam Karmann (Omnibus); documentary short: Thomas C Goodwin and Gerardine Wurzburg (Educating Peter); documentary feature: Barbara Trent and David Kasper (The Panama Deception);

Editing: Unforgiven; art direction, adapted screenplay (Ruth Prawer Jhabvala): Howards End; visual effects: Death Becomes Her; original score: (Alan Menken), original song ('A Whole New World', Alan Menken and Tim Rice): Aladdin; sound: The Last of the Mohicans; sound effect editing, costume design, make-up: Bram Stoker's Dracula; cinematography: A River Runs Through It.

Honorary award: Italian film-maker Federico Fellini for lifetime achievement; Jean Hersholt award: Audrey Hepburn for Unicef work and Elizabeth Taylor for support of Aids research; Academy (Technical) Award of merit: Chadwell O'Connor for development of the fluid-damped camera-head; Gordon E Sawyer (technical) award: Erich Kaestner for technical contributions to the motion picture industry.

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