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Senator Urges Oscar Bosses To Recognize Victims Of America’s Nuclear Testing During Telecast’s ‘Oppenheimer’ Celebrations

Conservatives often criticize awards shows peppered with overtly political statements, but one GOP senator has written a letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors asking them to do include just those sort of messages in this year’s telecast.

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) wants the Academy to include the story of those who have suffered as a result of America’s nuclear testing in its celebration of the most-nominated film during this year’s Oscar ceremony.

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“Public interest in J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life story has never been greater, and the ongoing significance of his legacy will undoubtedly be a major focus at the 96th Academy Awards,” wrote Hawley in reference to Oppenheimer, which garnered 13 nominations.

“As you continue preparations for the ceremony on March 10, I write to urge you to include programming that recognizes the victims of America’s nuclear testing.”

Hawley has been fighting to get Congress to reauthorize the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program (which would compensate victims) before it expires in a few months. Last year, he pushed an amendment to the massive National Defense Authorization Act that would have done just that. Hawley even threatened to hold up the entire authorization over the issue. His amendment passed the Senate, but was ultimately stripped from the final version of the bill by Congressional leadership.

Of course, there are so-called “downwinders” even closer to the Manhattan Project site than those in Missouri.

Per History.com, “the testing site, located in the Tularosa Basin, was not an isolated area. Nearly half a million people, many of them Hispanos and Native Americans, lived within a 150-mile radius of the detonation—some only 12 miles away. These people and others downwind of the blast became the first victims of nuclear fallout.”

Earlier this week, Dr. Tara Drozdenko, a physicist and director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, penned an open letter to the cast and crew of Oppenheimer, asking them to use their platform to help achieve justice for the people of New Mexico who were sickened by fallout from the Trinity Test Site.

“While Oppenheimer’s advocacy during his own time wasn’t straightforward, those involved in the film have a clear and simple opportunity to help right a historical wrong,” wrote Dr. Drozdenko. “After nearly 80 years of fighting, many of these communities are still waiting for basic support for the cancers and other illnesses they suffer.”

He continued with a plea, “I’m writing to ask you, the cast of “Oppenheimer” – Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Robert Downey Jr., Matthew Modine, Jack Quaid, and so many more – to use your voice and your influence to bring further attention to this issue.”

Deadline reached out AMPAS for comment and will amend this story if one is received.

Curiously, Hawley fails to mention the very real ties between another highly-nominated film and victims of injustice in his state: In the early 1800s, the Osage, whose story is told masterfully in Killers of the Flower Moon (10 nominations), were driven from their lands in Missouri and forced to endure the Trail of Tears as they relocated first to Kansas, then to Oklahoma.

According to the Osage Nation Foundation, “By the time they negotiated the treaty of 1865, to purchase land in Oklahoma, the Osages had reduced in population by 95%. Only 3000 Osage People walked across the Kansas border into their new land.”

Here is Hawley’s letter in full:

This week, the Academy announced its full slate of nominees for the 2024 Academy Awards. Christopher Nolan’s biopic Oppenheimer is in the lead, with 13 award nominations across a variety of categories. Public interest in J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life story has never been greater, and the ongoing significance of his legacy will undoubtedly be a major focus at the 96th Academy Awards. 

As you continue preparations for the ceremony on March 10, I write to urge you to include programming that recognizes the victims of America’s nuclear testing. The Oppenheimer film tells a compelling story of these test programs. But it does not tell the story of the Americans left behind—still reckoning with the health and financial consequences of America’s nuclear research, after all these years. Shouldn’t the victims who are still paying the price have a voice, too? 

Across the nation, thousands of Americans currently suffer from cancer and other debilitating medical conditions, brought on by long-term radiation exposure. In places like my home state of Missouri, the radioactive waste of the Manhattan Project was never fully cleaned up. In many Western states, Americans living downwind from nuclear tests were never told the truth of their exposure and its consequences. In both cases, innocent people have suffered for decades. And now Congress stands poised to allow what limited compensation the government has offered victims to expire. That cannot be allowed to happen. These victims deserve justice through fair compensation from their government—and you can help by telling their stories. 

The Oppenheimer film closes with a haunting image of the world consumed in nuclear fire. That particular future has not yet come to pass. But countless good Americans have already paid a price for their government’s negligence in testing and failure to clear up nuclear waste. They have the right to be heard on a national stage—especially yours.

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