"Eat The Rich!" – Is The Tide Really Turning On Hollywood's Elites?

Olivia Ovenden
Photo credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez - Getty Images

From Esquire

One of the most talked about guests at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday was not an actor, a presenter or a musician. It was Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos, hoping to go unnoticed in a smart black tuxedo.

“Jeff Bezos is so rich, he got divorced and he’s still the richest man in the world!” joked presenter Chris Rock. “He saw Marriage Story and thought it was a comedy.” When the night ended with Parasite – Bong Joon Ho's horror about class warfare and a world of rampant inequality – clinching the big prize, the joke making the rounds was that the rich elites in the room clapping, and the rich elites that voted for the winner, didn't know the film was about them.

One tweet summed up the glee people were taking in the apparent class war: "Oh my god. Bong Joon Ho and the entire cast of Parasite just ran up to Jeff Bezos and started beating the shit out of him. oh god the cameras aren’t even cutting away it’s just brutal."

Parasite has managed to cut through awards season with its searing, darkly comic take on growing class inequality. That its message was being applauded in a room packed with the one per cent, who live in the sort of sleek glass houses that the film features, and probably went on to misplace their £150,000 goodie bag on the way home, was a little ironic. Almost as much as billionaire Bond baddie Elon Musk recently proclaiming the film – a rallying cry for a revolt against the rich – as his favourite movie of the year.

Railing against billionaires has been a common theme this awards season, with Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais calling out the crowd collaborating on films "about dignity and doing the right thing" with Apple, which doesn't have the best record of worker rights at its factories in China. At the same award ceremony, Joaquin Phoenix applauded his fellow winners for speaking out against climate change before adding, "but sometimes we have to take that responsibility on ourselves and make changes and sacrifices in our own lives... we don't have to take private jets to Palm Springs for the awards."

For Phoenix, the rich that need eating are his fellow less-woke nominees; for Chris Rock, it's billionaire Bezos. Nobody believes they are the villain and everybody thinks someone else is the upstairs to their downstairs, even if the building in question cost you $3.5m and sits on a private beach in Malibu. Nobody in the Dolby Theatre on Sunday thought the joke was on them, aside perhaps Jeff Bezos, who avoided the red carpet and slinked into the afterparty through a side door.

Bezos has become a fixture at the Oscars as Amazon has cemented itself as a film industry player. This year, Amazon Studios films – The Report, The Aeronauts, Honey Boy – all fell short of nominations, but he still has a seat in the room after winning three Academy Awards for Manchester by the Sea and The Salesman in 2017.

It's tempting for those on the inside to paint Bezos as the villain (especially when he dresses like one). As film studios have been weakened by streaming services and the internet, tech money has flowed into Hollywood, with the likes of Apple and Amazon offering stars paycheques that can't be matched.

Photo credit: Frazer Harrison - Getty Images

Of course, Hollywood has long been a place where affection is closely linked to clout – after God, the most thanked person during Academy Award acceptance speeches was Harvey Weinstein – but this change in the power-brokers means art is being funded by companies whose sketchy labour practices and appalling environmental records are front page news. In the face of which, speeches that call for systemic change feel a little hollow, as everyone in the room cries out "eat the rich" in an attempt to deflect from their own part in the money-grubbing.

Parasite winning can be read as a middle finger to the elite, but the chances of it changing anything are as likely as the film industry actually biting the hand that feeds it, rather than just barking about it while picking up its gold statues.

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