Would you believe it if I told you that tomorrow—Thursday, March 11, 2021—is the one-year anniversary of Tom Hanks’s announcement that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for the coronavirus? One hates to even consider such a thing as the anniversary of our pandemic year, but the Gregorian calendar, time’s cruel mistress, won’t relent with its little reminders.
Hanks was in Australia at the time shooting a Baz Luhrmann film in which he plays Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, and after that announcement a couple things were clear: One, if this virus can find and incapacitate one of the world’s most beloved actors, then this is a serious and real threat. And two, Australia was the next place, after Italy and the rest of Europe, to see a massive outbreak.
Right on just one account there. Now, one year after the thing, the irony of ironies (in the Morissette-ian sense) is that Australia is not only free from widespread COVID fears for the most part, but it’s also a haven for celebrities of Hanks’s caliber on down. See this Instagram post from one Chris Hemsworth, posted less than two weeks ago, and try not to seethe or lament or panic or pout:
Did you catch Idris Elba there too? And Matt Damon? They’re all just…hanging out.
Hemsworth is Australian, but he also did what more and more of our best and brightest actors are doing, as a New York Times piece published Wednesday pointed out: burnish their name as a star and then head back to dingo-land’s beach havens, often right in time to ride the rest of this pandemic out. What they are enjoying now is a near COVID-less existence.
Other examples the piece offers are Zac Efron, who famously moved to where his sun-kissed good looks and musculature fit right in, and where the Hollywood machine was not. And then there are the more temporary dalliances Down Under, like Natalie Portman who is shooting a Thor sequel and Melissa McCarthy went to shoot Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers, and then decided to just…stay there for some time.
It was the long-suffering Rita Ora that became a lightning rod for the issue with all this. She made it into Australia in order to appear on the The Voice in the country, and the country in turn voiced frustration that she was shot to the front of the line, cutting tens of thousands Australians who are stranded overseas thanks to a cap on the number of people who can enter.
In response to Ora, and Hollywood expats given preferential entry, the Australian Border Force told the Times that travel exemptions for film and television productions were “considered where there is evidence of the economic benefit the production will bring to Australia and support from the relevant state authority.”
It does feel a bit like déjà vu. One year later, long after Hanks recovered, and hundreds of thousands of Americans have not, we are right back where we started with the big, global lesson from this whole thing: You may be able to escape COVID, but you can’t escape the class struggle that COVID has brought to the fore, like an excellent mud mask does to the blemishes lying just there below the surface.
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