Did Academy Awards voters just give their top 2023 Oscar to an individualist and libertarian science fiction film? Yep – pretty much!

By Michael Grossberg

Did something significant to science fiction – actually, unprecedented – just happen at the Academy Awards?

It wasn’t really highlighted in any media reports I came across, but isn’t Everything Everywhere All at Once the first outright science fiction film to win the Oscar for Best Picture?

And not only that, but the Best Picture winner is especially intriguing to consider from a libertarian futurist perspective: Is it possible that this year’s Academy Awards recognized one of the most pro-freedom films to ever win an Oscar for best picture?

Such questions are sparked by an intriguing column on Reason magazine’s blog: “Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All At Once Celebrates individalism, Free Will.”

Writer Eric Boehm argues that “in a chaotic universe full of infinite realities where all choices are relative, individualism still matters.”

The movie, which Boehm accurately describes as about a beleaguered Chinese family running a laundromat and struggling to keep their “small business afloat despite the IRS’ predations,” won seven Academy Awards including best picture, director, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress.

Jamie Lee Curtis as an IRS agent in Everything Everywhere All at Once. File photo

“It’s a science-fiction story wrapped inside an homage to the kung fu films of the ’70s, crossed with an exploration of mental health, with two big scoops of slapstick comedy heaped on for good measure. Inside all that, Everything grapples with a philosophical conundrum: If literally every possible outcome of every choice you’ve ever made were as real as this world, should you surrender to nihilism or embrace the freedom that comes from knowing your existence is both meaningless and unique?

“Since nothing matters, the only thing that can matter is the choice you make,” says Evelyn Wang, the film’s protagonist, played with exceptional energy and vulnerability by Best Actress winner Michelle Yeoh, at the movie’s climactic moment.

The Reason article doesn’t go overboard with its praise or tries to hard to make the exhilarating and poignant film fit squarely within any one ideology – pointing out correctly that the movie doesn’t embrace modern libertarianism per se. Instead, the movie dramatizes the crucial difference that making our own choices, amid life’s inevitable challenges and uncertainties, can make in enhancing our pursuit of happiness.

“And while the movie may not have an explicitly libertarian interpretation—aside from using the IRS as a villain—the resolution to the dilemma is one that should resonate with fans of free minds. In a chaotic universe full of infinite realities where all choices are relative, individualism still matters.”

…”If all outcomes exist, the movie argues, the ultimate value is not found in the outcomes at all but in the act of choosing. By making the choice to love someone, to show kindness to a stranger, or to express yourself, we tether ourselves to a single reality. The only one that matters.”

Only a few movies or TV series have received Prometheus Award recognition over the decades – most notably The Prisoner TV series, the 2002 Hall of Fame winner, and the films Serenity and V for Vendetta, both recipients of a Special Prometheus Award.

With its science-fiction elements and individualist and pro-choice themes, Everything Everywhere All at Once may come closer to being similarly eligible for Special Award consideration than any other Best Picture Oscar winner in history.

And whether the film ultimately is nominated for that occasional and rare award, its success – at the box office and with awards – is very encouraging as a sign that individualistic and libertarian values and themes continue to be explored and taken seriously within American popular culture.

P.S. If you’re intrigued by such reflections of individualism and libertarianism in popular culture, also check out the recent Reason blog article by Peter Suderman on “The Defiant Individualism of The Last Of Us,” which argues that “like the video game, the HBO series makes the case for the morality of an individual who refuses to sacrifice for the collective.”

An excerpt:

“The story demonstrates, over and over again, that the choice not to sacrifice for the collective does not make one a monster. On the contrary, to defend one’s self and one’s loved ones, to love someone so powerfully that one will do anything for them, even at great cost to society, makes one intensely human. That’s because the collective does not and indeed cannot care for individual needs and desires, for the specificity and strangeness of love, for the prioritization of close friends and family over the masses.

“It is an attempt to answer the question of what a good and moral individual owes society with a startling and provocative response: Maybe—just maybe—nothing at all.”

Kudos to Reason magazine for covering both politics and culture so thoroughly.




* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.


* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.

Watch  videos of the 2022 Prometheus ceremony with Wil McCarthy, and past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.


Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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