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The Zone of Interest Oscar Winner Jonathan Glazer Said What No One Else Dared to Say

Sometime between John Cena’s nude tribute to costume design and Emily Blunt’s playful scolding of Ryan Gosling for “Kensplaining,” at Sunday’s 96th Academy Awards, Jonathan Glazer accepted the Best International Feature Oscar for The Zone of Interest. “All our choices were made to reflect and confront us in the present—not to say ‘look what they did then’; rather, look what we do now,’” said the writer and director of the German-language British production, in which a Nazi commandant and his family lead unbothered lives next door to the unspeakable horrors of Auschwitz. “Our film shows where dehumanization leads at its worst… Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many people, whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel, or the ongoing attack on Gaza.” Glazer posed a question to the telecast's global audience: “How do we resist?”

His was not the only political statement made on the Oscars stage this year. From Jimmy Kimmel’s message of support for entertainment unions, interspersed throughout a painstakingly safe opening monologue, to 20 Days in Mariupol writer-director Mstyslav Chernov’s emotional appeal for Ukraine, many of the event’s participants had current events on their minds. Yet only Glazer explicitly addressed the bloodshed in Gaza and Israel—a devastating conflict that has dominated global headlines for the past five months but whose rights, wrongs, and collateral damage are a rare subject of disagreement, best avoided in public, within a predominantly liberal industry. His speech was a moment of moral courage inextricably intertwined with his film’s urgent message.

The Zone of Interest is, as Glazer noted, a portrait of dehumanization taken to a genocidal extreme. Everyone knows (even if a vocal minority, still in thrall to Nazism, continues to deny) what happened within the walls of German concentration camps. Images of gas chambers, mass graves, and emaciated bodies in striped uniforms have become disturbingly familiar reminders of the suffering millions of Jews and other outsiders endured under Hitler's Third Reich. Each year brings another crop of movies and TV shows featuring cartoonishly evil Nazi villains. Yet The Zone of Interest flips perspectives to the other side of the mirror that is dehumanization. It illustrates how numbness to the torture, starvation, and death of innocent people you’ve convinced yourself are less than human turns even the most passive enablers of that violence into monsters. The more normal Commander Rudolf Höss’ (Christian Friedel) family life seems, the more ghastly it becomes.

So it stands to reason that Glazer would use a stage where Vanessa Redgrave expressed similar sentiments in 1978—and on which victors regularly opine, to mixed reviews, on contentious issues ranging from gender inequity to racism to war—to condemn an ongoing Israeli bombardment that has already cost more than 30,000 Palestinians their lives as well as Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 massacre. The filmmaker’s reference to an occupation that predates the current outburst of violence by decades grounded his assessment in history, in the same way that The Zone of Interest uses the atrocities of the past to speak to a present that has yet to learn the Holocaust’s lessons.

Glazer was taking a real risk by speaking up for Palestinians on Hollywood’s biggest stage. In November, Susan Sarandon was dropped by her talent agency and actress Melissa Barrera was fired from a role in Scream VII for expressing certain pro-Palestinian views. On social media, a number of prominent Israel hawks are already attacking Glazer and misrepresenting his speech as a renunciation of his Jewish identity.

But if he hadn’t read his deliberate, pre-written statement, the entire telecast might well have gone on as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening in the Middle East. While high-profile attendees including Mark Ruffalo, Billie Eilish, and Ramy Youssef wore Artists4Ceasefire pins, ABC’s red carpet interviewers ignored them. (“We’re calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza. We’re calling for peace and lasting justice for the people of Palestine,” Youssef explained to Variety.) Cillian Murphy, accepting the Best Actor award for portraying a man who created the world's most lethal weapon of mass dehumanization, made a conspicuously vague call for peace: “For better or for worse, we’re all living in Oppenheimer’s world,” he said. “I’d like to dedicate this to the peacemakers.”

For as long as popular artists have been speaking their minds at awards-show podiums, a contingent of viewers and pundits has admonished them to keep politics out of what is supposed to be a fun night. The thing is, politics are at the core of the art that the Oscars (and all entertainment awards) exist to celebrate. Even Barbie is political. So there’s certainly no separating the images of war conjured by Oppenheimer and 20 Days in Mariupol and The Zone of Interest from the carnage in Gaza. How refreshing to see a director honored whose humanism trumps Hollywood taboo.

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