ABC‘s 88th Academy Awards TV Show Review. This year’s Academy Awards celebrated film giants and newcomers alike, but even more than that, many filmmakers used the Oscars as a platform for social and political issues.
Host Chris Rock opened the show with a monologue largely dedicated to discussing racism in Hollywood. This year the Oscars have received huge amounts of criticism for the fact that no black actors were nominated in any category, and viewers knew that Chris Rock wouldn’t shy from the topic. He did not disappoint: his jokes ranged from wildly inappropriate lynching references to what were actually some thought-provoking ideas. In one joke that started off a bit unnervingly, he eventually made the point that categorizing male and female acting categories is actually somewhat sexist:
If you want black nominees every year, you need to have black categories. That’s what you need. You already do it with men and women. Think about it: There’s no real reason for there to be a man and a woman category in acting. There’s no reason! It’s not track and field. You don’t have to separate them. Robert De Niro never said, ‘I should slow this acting down so Meryl Streep can catch up.’ No. Not at all.
Chris Rock wasn’t the only one speaking up for marginalized people; many winners used their speeches to share their thoughts on a range of issues. The Big Short director and screenwriter Adam McKay used his Best Adapted Screenplay win to remind us that this story about Wall Street taking advantage of the rest of America covers a story that isn’t over. He ended his speech saying, “If you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for [presidential] candidates that take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires!”
Speaking of presidents, vice president Joe Biden showed up to send a loud and clear message about rape culture on college campuses, asking every viewer to take “a pledge that says I will intervene in situations when consent has not or has not been given. Let’s change the culture. We must and we can change the culture. So that no abused woman or man, like the survivors you will se tonight, ever feel they ever have to ask themselves ‘What did I do?’ They did nothing wrong.” Biden’s call to action was followed by a heartfelt Lady Gaga performance of “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground, a documentary about rape on college campuses. Gaga was joined by survivors of sexual assault onstage, and the performance was possibly the most emotional moment of the night.
Spotlight co-producer Michael Sugar continued talk of sexual abuse in his acceptance speech for Best Picture. “This film gave a voice to survivors.” he said, “and this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican. Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith.”
Other winners’ acceptance speeches communicated moments of progress and hope. Singer Sam Smith, in his speech for winning Best Original Song for Spectre‘s “Writing’s on the Wall,” dedicated his award to “the LGBT community all around the world,” expressing how proud he was to be an openly gay Oscar winner. Best Documentary Short winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, speaking on her film A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, noted its impact: “This week the Pakistani Prime Minister has said that he will change the law on honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film.”
The warm moments continued as Leonardo DiCaprio– finally- won his first Oscar, for his portrayal of Hugh Glass in The Revenant. DiCaprio’s speech was given ample time, and he was ready. After beautifully worded thank yous to his coworkers onset and many others in his career, DiCaprio used his audience to make a case for climate change:
Making ‘The Revenant’ was about man’s relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real; it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.
DiCaprio’s director, Alejandro Iñárritu, won Best Director for The Revenant, and in his speech he punched through the straightforward truth that Chris Rock had been joking about all night long. “What a great opportunity to our generation to really liberate ourself from all prejudice and this tribal thinking” of people like The Revenant‘s characters, he said, “and make sure for once and forever that the color of skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.”
No matter the issue at hand, the people who make up Hollywood showed that they have a conscience, and that they want to use their art to do good. The 2016 Oscars blurred the line between art and politics; only time will tell whether we see the effects on-screen.
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