The Oscars telecast had its share of viral moments on Sunday night, but none were as moving as the Oscar for Best Documentary being awarded to Julia Reichert, 73, and Steven Bognar, co-directors of “American Factory.”
Reichert, who has terminal bladder cancer and who chose not to wear a wig for her big night, accepted her statue for the film — about the complications that happen when a Chinese businessman opens a factory in an abandoned General Motors plant in Ohio — looking beautiful and proud.
Julia Reichert of “American Factory”: “Working people have it harder and harder these days—and we believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite.” https://t.co/8kz7m5vtnF #Oscars pic.twitter.com/tVGnWP7HBiRead More— ABC News (@ABC) February 10, 2020
Her acceptance speech, which talked about being inspired by all the work in the category, the need for “workers of the world to unite” and included a joyful shout out to her sports team — “Go Buckeyes!” — did not touch on her disease, but she spoke candidly prior to the show about her journey and hopes.
“I’ll be real honest, it would be extremely meaningful after four nominations and my age and my state of life. It would be very meaningful. There’s no cure for what I have. And it could be six months, a year, or more,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.
Reichert’s Cancer Journey
“I was diagnosed with cancer about a year and a half ago now. And I fought it, and it went away. But then it came back in a small spot, and so I’m — I’ve had to fight it again, which, of course, is never good news,” she said. “It’s actually an incurable cancer. It’s fatal. And I’m very aware of that.”
But she credits it with providing a certain kind of clarity.
“It’s sort of changed my life perspective in a way as to what’s important,” she told NPR. “You know, I write about that to some degree. But in the end, I’m full of hope. There still are plenty of things to try. It kind of gives — it gives me a sense of wanting to focus my life on what will bring me and the people around me the most joy.”
Reichert and Bognar have covered cancer previously in their work, releasing “A Lion in the House” in 2006, a film following the lives of five children with cancer.
“American Factory,” a Netflix documentary, is the first film out of Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground Productions.
The win prompted messages of congratulations from the Obamas on Twitter, including this one from President Obama:
Congrats to Julia and Steven, the filmmakers behind American Factory, for telling such a complex, moving story about the very human consequences of wrenching economic change. Glad to see two talented and downright good people take home the Oscar for Higher Ground’s first release. https://t.co/W4AZ68iWoY
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 10, 2020
Information About Bladder cancer
An estimated 81,400 people estimated to get bladder cancer this year in the U.S. alone, according to the American Cancer Society. Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men, but is much less common in women.
Dr. Balar discusses advances in immunotherapy for bladder cancer.
New methods of treating bladder cancer are being explored. “The immune system is actually our most powerful weapon against cancer,” Dr. Arjun Balar, director of the genitourinary medical oncology program at NYU’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous conversation. “Of all the patients who are diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer, what we are realizing is that nearly 60% to 70% of our patients are not eligible for the most effective and aggressive chemotherapy treatment.”
Although little is known about Reichert’s cancer, including her treatment plan, the development of drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors has allowed for real progress in treating bladder cancer. “These drugs reinvigorate the immune system and unleash the immune system against cancer,” Dr. Balar said. “For us to be able to offer this treatment really expands the treatable population that we have with bladder cancer and offers a safer and more effective option than we had previously before.”