Unless you were lucky enough to fall asleep at a decent hour on Sunday night, you probably already know Matthew McConaughey took home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ron Woodroof in the early-AIDS-crisis drama “Dallas Buyers Club.” During his impassioned acceptance speech, the 44-year-old Texas native took a rare (and temporary) detour from the typical self-congratulations that permeate the film-industry kudofest and waded into more spiritual terrain:
“First off I want to thank God, because he’s the one I look up to. He’s graced my life with opportunities, which I know are not of my hand or any other human kind. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, ‘When you got God you got a friend and that friend is you.’”
It wasn’t so much McConaughey’s shout-out to the almighty that got people talking, but rather the awkward silence and sparse applause that followed, an uncomfortable void that many commentators saw as indicative of Hollywood’s discomfort with all things pious.
Fr. Jonathan Morris, director of the Catholic Channel and an analyst for Fox News, called McConaughey’s speech “courageous” in a tweet, but he said the reaction to it “spoke volumes.”
— Fr. Jonathan Morris (@fatherjonathan) March 3, 2014
Other critics were even harsher.
The minimal applause that Matthew McConaughey received for thanking God is disgraceful. Hollywood needs some religion. #Oscars2014
â€” Maggie (@maggs06) March 3, 2014
As many commentators, including Gawker, pointed out, scandal-ridden Woody Allen seemed to get a more enthusiastic response when he was thanked by Best Actress winner Cate Blanchett, but in all honesty, the polarizing director's mention didn’t exactly meet with thunderous guffaws, and what applause he did receive was clearly obligatory.
Why is the mere mention of God in an Oscar acceptance speech enough to generate so much armchair commentary? Rarity, for one thing: According to Harper’s Index, only seven Academy Award winners in the past 20 years have thanked God in their acceptance speeches (compared with 30 who have thanked Harvey Weinstein). While few would argue that this doesn’t reflect a disproportionate secularism among those who work in the entertainment industry, it’s also difficult not to place some of the blame on the fitful reactions to McConaughey’s speech -- and not those coming from the audience.
Perhaps more spiritually inclined Oscar winners would feel comfortable mentioning God if they weren’t afraid that every such reference would turn into a divisive public referendum on Hollywood’s role in America’s culture wars. For argument’s sake, see Exhibit A below:
â€” Conservative Monster (@liberaltreason) March 3, 2014
â€” TWParks (@freeboy1972) March 3, 2014
â€” AZ Conservative (@Andy_Felty) March 3, 2014
What exactly is the problem with @McConaughey’s acceptance speech from last night? Are actors not allowed to believe in God any more?
â€” Zachary Moore (@drzach) March 3, 2014
as Matthew McConaughey thanks GOD for his life & successes, Hollywood 'stars' were appalled & not applauding it; applause came from balcony
â€” Beu Cards (@BeuCards) March 3, 2014
And for the other side of the reactionary coin, here’s Exhibit B:
McConaughey's a great actor. Had me fooled he was an atheist in real life after watching #TrueDetective but he thanked his invisible friend.
â€” SingleInRaleigh (@WrightInNC) March 3, 2014
Bothers me that my hunky McConaughey isn't the attractive atheist he is in True Detective in real life
â€” Georgia Jones (@Georg_ia) March 3, 2014
Did Matthew Mcconaughey just thank god? Oh boy he's living in a fantasy world, and so are the #oscar voters who voted for him.
â€” Billy Dong (@BillyDong1) March 3, 2014
It’s interesting to note, as noted blogger Joe My God did, that McConaughey’s speech made no mention of HIV or the AIDS crisis, but the omission didn’t seem to have much overall effect on the shout-out commentary.
McConaughey's speech: No mention of HIV. Or people with AIDS. Or ACT UP. Just God God God, who the wingnuts say *sent* AIDS. #Oscars
â€” JoeMyGod (@JoeMyGod) March 3, 2014
Tweets about McConaughey’s speech continued to pour in throughout the day on Monday, and yet it’s hard not to see the ensuing chatter as one of those day-after dustups that few people will remember by week’s end. It’s still nice to know that, with all the opinions coming in from both sides, McConaughey’s show of appreciation didn’t go unacknowledged.
YES! YOU'RE WELCOME MATTHEW!
â€” God (@TheTweetOfGod) March 3, 2014
Watch Matthew McConaughey’s full acceptance speech below, courtesy of YouTube user Curry Russell.