With the United States nearing war with Iraq, Hollywood's glitzy "Night of Nights" has, not surprisingly, taken on a somber pall.
Echoing the dour sentiments of other Oscar contenders, nominee Ed Harris says, "I plan on being there. ... It's very, very disturbing. You feel really powerless."
Set for Sunday night, the Academy Awards ceremony is expected to go on as scheduled, but with heightened security and far less of the standard hoopla: no red-carpet arrivals by the stars, no Barbara Walters special before the show. In its 75-year history, the Oscars were downplayed during World War II and postponed because of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968 and the attempt on President Reagan's life in 1981, but never have been canceled.
So now the question is: How will presenters and winners who have strong opinions about the war, pro and con, use their time at the mike - when they have a potential national audience of 50 million viewers?
The show's producer, Gilbert Cates, has provided some guidelines for Oscar-night behavior. Winners will be given 45 seconds before the orchestra drowns them out. Cates says he hopes the winners "focus on their work" and do not mount a soapbox, but that no one will be censored.
"I have to say something, even if it's silence," says Harris, a front-runner in the supporting-actor category for his AIDS patient in The Hours. "I've given this a lot of thought, but I don't know what I'll say.
"We're all human beings, and I think the Academy respects the fact that creative people have feelings and opinions about things," he adds.
"To pretend that the war is not happening and not say something Sunday night would be a missed opportunity," argues Berkeley's Gail Dolgin, co-director of the nominated documentary Daughter From Danang.
Director Chris Wedge, nominated in the animated-feature category for Ice Age, is also anti-war. He, however, does not intend to voice his conscience. "If we're fortunate enough to get up there, I'm not planning on making an anti-war statement," he says from his office in upstate New York. "There are ways to say 'thank you' and be gracious. Frankly, the two ideas - war and Oscars - are so disjointed in my mind, I wouldn't know how to respond."
Oscar winner George Chakiris, who will participate in a 75th-anniversary production number, says it's inappropriate to politicize the show. "People should be able to say what they want, but I don't think the Oscars is the appropriate place," says the actor, who won the supporting-actor award in 1961 for West Side Story. "It doesn't need to be turned into a political event. That spoils the fun of what is basically entertainment."