Why the Oscars Should Be a Fundraiser for COVID Relief
Art and Experience:
Now that Oscar noms are in and planning for the 93rd Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre and Union Station is underway, I’m hoping the next announcement we hear is that the evening will serve as a fundraiser for COVID relief. Following the Academy’s $6 million donation last April to The Actors Fund, the Motion Picture & Television Fund and its own grant program, it would be great to see cinema celebrated on the big night while also acknowledging the loss and sorrow of the past year by supporting those who continue to need help the most.
In 1941, the Academy canceled the Oscars following the United States’ entry into World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. However, Academy president Bette Davis stepped in and suggested the ceremony be open to the public with ticket sales going to the Red Cross. That plan was nixed by the board of governors, who eventually decided to scrap the ceremony. They asked attendees to turn down the glitz by wearing business attire, making the affair a stripped-down dinner rather than a glamorous gala.
The Academy should do the same for 2021 while also resurrecting Davis’ fundraising mission. It’s not possible for the public to attend the Oscars due to COVID restrictions, but raising money? Hollywood does it all the time and does it well — now is not the time not to do it.
Jamie Chung is speaking out against society’s treatment of people of Asian descent. “Xenophobia is nothing new,” says the “Lovecraft Country” actor. “I have no doubt that there’s not one Asian American who has not heard, ‘Go back to your country.’” I spoke to Chung following the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes (the horrific spa shootings in Atlanta happened after we talked). She says she’s willing and ready to call Hollywood out on its misrepresentation and stereotypical depiction of people of Asian descent and culture. “I don’t care what people think of me, what organizations like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association or the Oscars think of me,” she says. “I don’t care anymore because these are things that really matter. I think now is the time to not shit on people, but just like to call people out.” With that in mind, Chung is this year’s ambassador for HBO’s fifth annual Asian Pacific American Visionaries Short Film Competition. The cabler awards cash prizes to filmmakers of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, whose films will also premiere on HBO and be available on HBO Max. “Hopefully we can open the minds of non-Asian Americans,” Chung says.
Perhaps Oscar producers could ask WME agent Richard Weitz and his high school senior daughter Demi to get involved. The two have raised more than $20 million for 43 charities through their Zoom series “Quarantunes.” The 400-plus performers have included Shawn Mendes, Andra Day, John Mayer, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. There are two icons Richard Weitz says he’s still hoping to book: Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. Thursday night’s “Quarantunes” benefits the Alliance for Children’s Rights. A third fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS takes place next month. As COVID restrictions ease, “Quarantunes” could become a live-and-virtual hybrid. “I think people are going to start getting out more, which is wonderful,” Weitz says. “The great thing about ‘Quarantunes’ was that I can call anyone at any moment, and they’d be at home. When we started, people were lonely. They couldn’t go anywhere. They wanted community.” Demi’s currently planning for college in the fall, but she says, “Whenever I’m back in town, we’re doing ‘Quarantunes.’ I also can’t wait to tune in on a Saturday night from my dorm room.”
Congrats to Jesse Tyler Ferguson. He’s just released his first cookbook, “Food Between Friends,” with co-author Julie Tanous. His worst kitchen nightmare? “I bought a rack of lamb. It’s a recipe I’ve made before, and for some reason I wasn’t paying attention when I turned the grill on. I cranked up the heat way too much,” the former “Modern Family” star tells me on this week’s “Just for Variety” podcast. “This poor rack of lamb got so scorched. … It was a dinner party, and I had nothing else to give anyone, so we just ordered in pizza.” He also has a fear of pie crust. “Not eating it, but making it,” Ferguson says. “I’ve cried over pie crusts that I’ve tried to make.” Also joining me on the podcast is “Firefly Lane” star Sarah Chalke. Head over to Apple Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite programs, to find out what Chalke has to say about a second season of the hit Netflix drama series.