Calling Bush a ”fictitious president” who’s unleashed a ”war for fictitious reasons” in Iraq, Michael Moore — newly minted Oscar winner for Best Documentary — let loose a sparky speech Sunday night that was promptly spiked with audience boos. Thus, the ”Bowling for Columbine” director quickly (and predictably) became the most controversial figure of the 2003 Oscars. Here, Moore speaks with EW.com about the ensuing storm.
Did you know what you were going to say when you got up to the podium?
I felt I had to say something about Bush and the war; it wasn’t out of place because that’s what my film deals with — the American culture of violence and why we’re such a violent people. It’s about why and how our government manipulates us with fear. Specifically, the film [deals with] the Bush Administration manipulating people with fear to enact their agenda and to get money for war. So I thought whatever I’d say if I won would be along those lines because it was appropriate to the theme of the movie.
You got a standing ovation as you walked up, then you began your speech and promptly got booed. Were you surprised?
It was two different groups of people. You can look at a tape of the show — there’s nobody booing on the main floor. Do you think they’re that flaky in Hollywood that I was the first award they stood for — the first standing ovation — and within 10 seconds they decided to change their minds? The same people who’d voted for this film?
So where were the boos coming from?
The first shouts were ”No, no!” and it was almost like the person was miked. It was so loud. But it was so weird because I was looking at the audience, and they were all either sitting there nodding, smiling, applauding, or just listening. I have friends and family who were in the balcony, and they said the first sounds didn’t come up from up there, it came through the amplified loud-speaker system in the auditorium. The L.A. Times said stagehands joined in.
Is that what it sounded like to you — an amplification?
It was so loud my wife, who was standing next to me, couldn’t hear what I was saying. One of my buddies who worked on the film and was up on the top balcony said there was a pocket of people there, and I hadn’t finished my first sentence and, like, on cue, they just started [booing] up there. First the ”No! No!” going through the sound system and then the [booing] up there. Then the people in the balcony who were supportive of what I was saying started booing the booers. They were shouting at them to shut up! So now it’s a cacophony of booing, making it sound much worse than it was.
Looking at the main level, which had given you that standing ovation, they were stock-still once your speech and the booing began.
I think they wanted to hear what I was saying. In the cutaways — I’ve watched it now — you see Martin Scorsese starting to applaud, Ed Harris is applauding, a number of them are actually applauding.
A few. Overall you were kind of left hanging.
I think they were [all] kind of stunned by the moment. I don’t expect them as actors, as celebrities, to get up there and [make a statement]. It often seems awkward, even to me.
But because you’re a political filmmaker you can?
That’s what I do for a living. I make political documentaries. If I was upset about anything it was that the band drowned out my last line there.
Which was: Any time you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, you’re not long for the White House.
What do you think of the people who booed you?
Isn’t that why this is such a great country? Everyone can speak their mind. It’s a little disconcerting that I get 45 seconds to have my piece and there are those who would try to deny me my right to speak. The only people who looked bad here are the people who want to deny someone 45 seconds of free speech. The director of the show had told all the nominees those were our 45 seconds and it was completely up to us what we want to say and do. We were not threatened in any way to stick to any kind of a script.
Did you consider an alternate version?
The other road I would have gone down is: ”We’ve taught the children of Columbine an important lesson this week — that violence is an acceptable method to resolve a conflict.” That really bothers me. Sometimes violence is unfortunately necessary in self-defense, but what do you call this invasion of Iraq? [If you were to] randomly ask people, ”Do you believe Saddam Hussein is going to kill you this month?” [would they say, ”Yes”?] Most people were raised with a certain set of Judeo-Christian values that say you don’t have the right to take another person’s life unless it’s in self-defense. I have very strong personal beliefs about this, and how can I stop being that person because I walk into the Kodak Theatre? On the other hand, I’m very respectful when I’m a guest in someone’s house — that’s the way I was raised. So I put a tux on, I didn’t wear a baseball cap, I said what my conscience told me to say and it related in an appropriate way to the message of my film. How wrong would it have been if I’d stood up there and thanked my agent and my lawyer and the designer who gave me the tuxedo? And how could I live with myself?
What are you doing next?
A film tentatively titled ”Fahrenheit 9/11.” It’s about the country since 9/11 and how I believe that event is being used as a cover for the Bush Administration to enact policies that aren’t in the best interests of the American people. It’s about what led to 9/11 and what’s happened since. I live in New York City, so we’ve all been affected by this and I’m not over it either. We knew somebody on one of the flights who died, and the firemen on our block. So I don’t want whatever the important lessons are that we need to learn from this to fade away. I certainly don’t like those who died that day being dishonored and being used to pass laws so they can force librarians to give up their reading lists.