Oscars night was a night of stars - and political messages

Oscars night was a night of stars - and political messages

No longer just a night of glitz and glamour, the Oscars have become a platform for discussing important social and political issues that are relevant throughout the world

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Neil Patrick Harris proved an entertaining and lovable host at the 87th Academy Awards.
Neil Patrick Harris proved an entertaining and lovable host at the 87th Academy Awards.
Photo: EPA

One of the evening’s more emotional moments was when rap artist Common and R&B star John Legend won an Oscar for best song as composers of Glory, an anthem from Selma that also has played at Black Lives Matter rallies protesting lethal police force against racial minorities across the country. During their acceptance speech, Common paid tribute to Occupy Central in Hong Kong and the Charlie Hebdo shooting in France.

To a raptured audience, Common spoke about the bridge that Martin Luther King and his supporters had walked on during their historic march: “The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the South side of Chicago dreaming of a better life to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy.”

The pair also delivered a breathtaking performance of Glory, which brought the celebrity-studded house to its feet, some with tears in their eyes.


Other highlights of the 87th Academy Awards include Neil Patrick Harris, who proved to be one of the hardest-working hosts in Oscar history on Sunday night, singing, dancing and even sprinting in his underpants onto the stage of the Dolby Theatre.

But the 41-year-old Broadway and television talent who came to fame as the child star of Doogie Howser, MD, also confronted a major issue of racism in Hollywood, opening the show with a fleeting but pointed jab at the all-white field of Oscar nominees. “Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest, sorry, brightest,” Harris said to hearty laughter.

The opening joke was a reference to the criticism Oscar voters faced this year for failing to nominate a single performer of colour in any of the acting categories for the first time in many years, including the critically acclaimed star of the civil rights drama, Selma, David Oyelowo.

It was the first of several politically charged moments of the night, including Patricia Arquette’s remarks in accepting her statuette as best supporting actress for her role as a single mom in Boyhood.

“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s rights,” Arquette said on stage. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she added.

Citizenfour filmmaker Laura Poitras went on to hail National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden as a hero as she accepted the award for best documentary.

“When the most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control,” she said.

Her speech was quickly followed with a biting counterpoint, and play on words, from Harris: “The subject of Citizenfour, Edward Snowden, could not be here for some ‘treason’.”

A second standing ovation of the night came as Lady Gaga delivered a rousing medley of songs from the musical film classic The Sound of Music, then welcomed the star of that movie, Julie Andrews, onto the stage.

“Dear Lady Gaga, thank you for that wonderful tribute,” said a visibly moved Andrews, 79. “It’s hard to believe that 50 years have gone by since that joyous film was released. We all really felt blessed to be part of it. And for me? How lucky can a girl get?”

Harris was perhaps at his best showing off his chops as a song-and-dance man in the night’s opening musical number: a salute to movie magic that also marked a conscious effort to connect with tech-savvy younger television viewers.

“Check out the glamour, and glitter/ people tweeting on the Twitter," sang Harris, the star of the hit CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, who previously has won three Emmys for hosting Broadway’s Tony Awards.

Before his number and the on-screen explosion of computer-graphic imagery of film classics had ended, Harris was joined by actress Anna Kendrick, a star of last year’s fairytale film musical Into the Woods, and then by Jack Black, leaping onto stage from the audience to play an angry contrarian before being driven away again by Kendrick’s hurled shoe.

In one of his zanier bits, and an homage to a memorable scene from Oscar front-runner Birdman, Harris ventured from backstage to the show’s main stage, followed by a camera, dressed only in his underpants, shoes and socks to introduce presenters of the sound-mixing award, with the words: “Acting is a noble profession.”

One obvious sign of the outreach to younger viewers came in a musical performance of the pop duo Tegan and Sara teaming up with former Saturday Night Live star Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island trio for a rendering of the hit Everything Is Awesome.

Turning one of the biggest Oscar faux pas into one of this year’s more comical interludes, John Travolta returned to the stage as a presenter with Idina Menzel, the singer whose name he had mangled at last year’s show.

He went out of his way to pronounce her name correctly this time, then rather sheepishly stood aside to leave Menzel the task of pronouncing the names of the best original song nominees. The winners, Legend and Common, neatly brought the evening’s political and comic moments full circle.

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