In many ways, the Oscar Awards, that much maligned entanglement of a Hollywood long out of step with the times, proved itself to be more current than ever last Sunday night as the 88th annual Academy Awards show unspooled live on ABC. Nearly every winner had a complaint, and a hoped-for solution to the discrimination they felt touched them personally through their work or art.
Host Chris Rock had the most obvious gripe, as a black man and an actor. “Well, I am here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People Choice Awards,” he said to the surprise of no one. Pointing to the lack of nominations for black actors, Rock said, “If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job…..Is Hollywood racist? You are damn right Hollywood’s racist. Hollywood is sorority racist. But things are changing.” Of course, not fast enough.
Best Actor winner Leonardo diCaprio brought attention to environmental discrimination as he accepted his award for Revenant. “Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work together and stop procrastinating. Do not take the planet for granted.” No mention of the Republican congress who isn’t convinced that the earth is dying.
The LGBT community got its moment to shine when Best Song winner Sam Smith took his time in the spotlight to incorrectly label himself the first openly gay person to win an Oscar. He was preceded by at least 13 others, but who’s counting? Their wins have not slowed the discrimination gays face around the world on a daily basis, particularly in some areas of the United States. “I want to dedicate this to the LGBT community all around the world. I stand here tonight as a proud gay man. I hope we can stand all together as equals one day.” The applause that greeted his wish suggests that the concept is an easier sell in Hollywood than in other places in this country.
Discrimination against women was on stage in the form of Pakistani activist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy who won the Oscar for the Best Documentary Short. Her film A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness told of the horror of honor killings. She lauded the “brave men” and others who encourage women to study and progress in life. She pledged to continue to speak up even when it placed her life in danger in her homeland.
Mark Rylance, who won for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Bridges of Spies, harkened back to the diversity issue that had marred the Academy since nominations were announced last month. “I think African-American actors are in a stronger position now thanks a lot to what Chris Rock has done tonight and what the activists who have been raising the issue around this awards ceremony have said.” Amen.
Even the Best Picture winner, Spotlight, was shrouded in the stain of discrimination and controversy. The film followed the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal and its coverup. “This film gave a voice to the survivors,” producer Michael Sugar said, “and the Oscar amplifies that voice which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican.”
Each point well taken; each form of bigotry real; each advocate for change a cog in the movement toward equality for all. The Oscar Awards never felt so current, illustrated the need for change more poignantly, or spoke louder to the fact that we are all responsible for the solution.
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