Photo courtesy of The Oscars

Photo courtesy of The Oscars

It’s standing room only in the lobby of our student apartment building. At 5 p.m. on a Monday, we’re all gathered around the flat screen TV watching the Academy Awards live. Thanks to the time difference, the only people watching the red carpet were the ones who didn’t have class at noon. No one really cares, though, because we’re all here for Leonardo DiCaprio.

When the presenter reaches his name, hoots and cheers erupt from the students gathered around the TV. Leo, you’ve got plenty of fans here in New Zealand.

In fact, in my three weeks abroad, I’ve learned that American celebrities are a special breed. They are truly world famous because of the size and scope of the U.S. media and entertainment industry. It’s already the largest entertainment industry in the world. By 2018, it’s expected to be valued at a whopping $723 billion, according to the U.S International Trade Administration.

I’ve heard about the revenue from the international box office, but it’s not until I was squeezed on the couch with a bunch of Kiwis rooting for Leo that I understood what that means exactly. It’s crazy that people who live on the other side of the world share my celebrity crush on Matt Damon and the Despicable Me minions. Ok, I made the latter one up. (I know everyone rolled their eyes when the little yellow guys made an appearance at the Oscars, but I still love them.)

It’s not just movies either. Kiwis know more about the Kardashian family and the U.S. presidential candidates than I do. Turn on the Top 40 radio station, and there’s a good chance that Justin Bieber is singing about saying sorry.

American entertainment dominates, and that’s the reality of living in a small market like New Zealand with its 4.5 million population. As a result, Kiwis are very familiar with American culture, American accents and American slang. On the other hand, I have a pretty steep learning curve. I sometimes struggle to understand the New Zealand accent, and I still can’t remember the name of the reality star from Geordie Shore (their version of Jersey Shore).

The Kiwis know Leo’s name though. DiCaprio’s name is announced for the Best Actor in a Leading Role, and the entire room starts celebrating.

As cool as it was to watch the biggest night for the movie industry in a foreign country and to be a part of the international Leo fan club, I couldn’t help but wish that the Kiwis had some of their own big movies and movie stars to root for. Local films are in such short supply that the New Zealand Film Awards, their version of the Oscars, are postponed at least six months while the organizers wait for a stronger mix of films.

My Kiwi roommates suggest that instead of waiting, we start my education in New Zealand entertainment with the New Zealand Bachelor television show. The new season starts in a week, and I know the lead won’t be as good as Leo, but I’ve got high hopes that the New Zealand bachelor is good looking and entertaining nonetheless.