Politics at the Oscars

Ah, the Oscars. A night for beautiful designer dresses, sparkling champagne, a hilarious yet insightful host, trophies for the people and films that were deemed the best of the year and… political stances? When the prestigious award show aired on Feb. 28, no acceptance speech or comedic punchline’s political nuances went over the audience’s head. It was the year that film gurus preferred to tell the world what their thoughts were about the election, the environment, sexual misconduct and white privilege—rather than going through the traditional checklist of people they would like to thank. This year, gratitude didn’t seem as important.

In 2016, the Academy hand-picked films such as Room, The Revenant, Spotlight, Brooklyn, The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Mad Max and The Martian for the almighty award: Best Picture. The actors Bryan Cranston, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Fassbender were nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The actresses in line for the Best Actress in a Leading role were Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlotte Rampling and Saorise Ronan.

Similar to last year, there was something lackingblack nominees. The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag trended on social media and celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith announced they were boycotting the Oscars because of its absence of diversity. Come show time, the heated issue continued to be subject to speculation. Black comedian and Oscars host, Chris Rock, addressed the elephant in the room in most of his brilliant bits.

“What I’m trying to say is it’s not about boycotting everything, we want opportunity. We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it. Not just once,” Rock said.

Even though the density of white faces in the crowd of nominees is a prevalent topic in Hollywood, we often forget that race or nationality is not just black or white. Black people in show biz may not be getting the same opportunities as white actors, but Indians, Chinese, people of mixed races, and so many others are also losing out on spotlight as well.

“The debate is not only about black and white people. The complexity is more than just one or another — the debate is becoming polarized without exploring the complexity of this country being so mixed — still we are dragging this tribal thing,” said the director of The Revenant, Allejandro G. Inarritu.

The hot button issue of race and diversity paved the grounds for the other political topics to be brought to the stage. Lady Gaga created a powerful moment while speaking out against sexual abuse, who sang “Till it Happens to You.” Before Vice President Joe Biden introduced Gaga, he also gave a speech about standing against sexual assault and changing rape culture (mentioning college campuses), and supporting survivors—-not blaming them.

At the song’s finale, sexual assault victims held each other’s hands and raised them high on stage as visible tears streamed down their faces along with the audience’s. Gaga belted, “Till it happens to you/You won’t know how I feel.” The strong women received a standing ovation as they left the stage with their heads a little higher.

That wasn’t the only worthy standing ovation of the night, however. The Academy finally gave us the moment we’ve all been waiting for since 1997, when Leonardo DiCaprio got up on the front ledge of the Titanic, stretched out his arms and screamed “I’m king of the world.” As the actor graciously and confidently walked up to the stage to accept the award for Actor in a Leading Role for The Revenant, we all felt like the king of the world.

Even though DiCaprio’s fans, and even peers, had patiently waited for years for the actor to win an Oscar, DiCaprio decided to avert the attention away from himself and his role in The Revenant, and redirect it towards planet earth.

“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 and the big corporations, but who speak for all of humanity; for the indigenous people of the world; for the billions and billions of underprivileged people in the world who will be most affected by this; for our children and our children’s children; and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed,” DiCaprio said.

At this point, it is the end of the show and most viewers are more at ease now that DiCaprio finally secured his Oscar. As always, the last award of the night is for Best Picture of the Year. Morgan Freeman announced in his legendary and soothing voice that “the Oscar goes to Spotlight.”

Reactions and first impressions will vary, and they depend on whether or not one has actually seen the film. However, many viewers may not have realized the possible political implications the Academy was making by choosing this particular film as best of the year. If you have followed the upcoming presidential elections and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s campaign, you may have noticed some correlation between his stances on media and the movie that advocates for Americans’ First Amendment rights.

Days before the Oscars, Trump proposed to “open up our libel laws,” which would make it easier to sue newspapers for writing “purposefully negative and horrible and false articles.” Coincidentally, the film Spotlight is about when the Boston Globe investigated the Roman Catholic Church’s cover-up of child abuse. The film not only highlights why the free press should be protected, but why certain topics and issues shouldn’t be.

Considering Americans will be voting for their next President this year, it was no surprise that Hollywood’s finest used the most watched award show of the year as a political platform. Whether or not viewers agreed with them, they made it one of the most important and political Oscars to date.

 

By ALLISON KRIDLE / Intern Writer

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