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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 09:54 GMT
Oscar night feels Iraq war threat
Oscar statues
Oscar night may happen while the US is at war

BBC News Online looks at how a conflict in Iraq may affect Hollywood's big night, the Oscars.

It is supposed to be a night of pure escapism.

The Oscars celebrate everything make-believe and glittering about Hollywood - the epic films, the dazzling stars, the glamorous dresses and the glitz only Tinseltown can provide.

But even the Oscars cannot completely discount reality - especially when it comes to security issues.

If there is war, then the show will almost certainly go on at the Oscars, organiser Gil Cates said on Wednesday.

And since last year's ceremony - the first since 11 September - the ongoing threat of terrorist incidents in the US has meant extra security headaches.

Gil Cates
Gil Cates says the tone of the Oscars may be affected

The awards, the biggest entertainment event in the world with a TV audience of more than a billion is a high-profile potential target for any terrorist threat.

Mr Cates has overseen 10 Oscar award ceremonies since 1990 and is aware a war would affect the ceremony.

He said the ceremony would reflect what was happening in the country.

Security 'good'

"We had this 12 years ago when Iraq invaded Kuwait and we had that war.

"There are two questions - the first question is how we're dealing with the security element of it and I can say that the security is going to be good," Mr Cates told the BBC's Peter Bowes.

Security was stepped up for last year's ceremony, and some of those procedures will remain in place this year.

The bleachers - the outdoor seating where the public can watch the red carpet arrivals - were made harder to get into last year when the ceremony moved to the Kodak Theater.

Instead of the usual free-for-all where Oscar fans queue for days for a chance to sit in the grandstand seating, the 400 spectators have had to apply for tickets weeks in advance.

US Navy fighters in the Gulf
The US continues a military build-up near Iraq

They also consented to background checks and are searched with metal detectors before they take to their seats.

Other security plans for the Oscar ceremony are of course secret.

Oscar security was heightened in 2001, even before the terrorist alerts, when there were kidnap and death threats against stars Russell Crowe.

The usual 250 bodyguards assigned to protect guests were boosted to more than 500.

"In terms of security, the Academy's main priority is the safety of our guests," Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Frank Pierson said recently.

Streets surrounding the Kodak Theater will be closed the night of the ceremony and police and other security will cordon off the area.

Last year a youth hostel with a view of the red carpet had to evict its guests because police and FBI agents commandeered the rooms.

After the heavy security at events like Salt Lake City's Winter Olympics, the Oscars are bound to be heavily protected - war in the Gulf or not.

Mr Cates also said a war would obviously affect the Oscars atmosphere.

"If you're asking how it will impact the show itself - in terms of the tone of the show - it'll absolutely have an impact," he said.

"The thing that's great about the Academy Awards show is that each show reflects the time in which it is presented.

Iraq views

"If you wanted to get a sense of the United States in any of the years the show is done, you'd get a good reference point," Mr Cates said.

Oscar statues
Security is a key part of organising the Oscars

But he added that the awards organisers had never considered postponing the ceremony, adding that they would not try to stop winners expressing views about a war - or the potential for war - with Iraq.

Hollywood has included some of the most vociferous opponents to military action.

Sean Penn, George Clooney and Dustin Hoffman have voiced their disapproval.

But Tom Cruise and director Steven Spielberg are for the use of force against Saddam Hussein.

"My personal view is that if someone wins an Academy Award they have 30 seconds in which to speak and they really can use those 30 seconds in any way they want to," Mr Cates said.

Mr Pierson also acknowledged that some may turn winning speeches into war speeches.

He said: "That's always something that can happen. One of the most interesting things about the Oscars are the unexpected things that happen," he said.


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