When the Oscars Were Held Against the Backdrop of Another Divisive War

On March 23, 2003, as the rest of the world watched televised images of captives and corpses identified as American soldiers, limos carrying high-fashion-clad celebrities rolled up outside what was then known as the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles.

The United States had invaded Iraq just three days before, and, until that morning, there was still the possibility that the Oscars wouldn’t go on.

As A-listers like Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry and Steve Martin — the host — were herded through metal detectors amid a large law enforcement presence, a few blocks away, police officers holding clubs faced off with demonstrators trying to get closer to the theater (none did).

This year, another war is in the headlines as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences mounts another Oscars. So far, almost no one has spoken out at precursor awards shows, but it was very different in 2003.

“It felt weird to dress up and go to this thing while our fellow Americans were all overseas about to get involved in something that was very dangerous,” the director Chris Sanders recalled in a recent interview. Sanders was nominated that year for best animated feature film for directing “Lilo & Stitch.”

Newly minted winners like Adrien Brody and Nicole Kidman, front left, joined past winners onstage in 2003. Credit…Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press
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