The arts have never shied away from controversial current issues. And so it wasn’t surprising that the 87th Oscars was riddled with statements about civil rights movements around the world, the gender pay gap, and the issue of race.
John Legend and Common took home the prize for Best Original Song, and used their acceptance speech to highlight social issues not only within the US but also internationally. Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution and France’s Charlie Hebdo attacks were mentioned, all under the overarching theme of civil demonstrations. Domestically, Legend and Common compared the number of 19th-century slaves to modern-day African Americans in the criminal justice system.
Sean Penn announced the Birdman best picture prize by asking: “Who gave this SOB his green card?” in reference to the Mexican filmmaking duo Alejandro González Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki. Iñárritu closed the night’s social change speeches by dedicating his prize to the Mexican immigrants in the US. The Hispanic community was appalled by Penn’s joke, highlighting the impression that the Academy Awards did not belong to their community.
Accepting the award for Best Actress, Patricia Arquette proclaimed: “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all.” After her rousing speech that brought the entire audience to their feet, Arquette elaborated backstage, stating that “it’s time for all the men who love women, and gay people, and others, to fight for us now.” The internet was immediately divided on her comments, some applauding her shout-out, and others turning to her backstage commentary afterwards, questioning whether she understood that she was suggesting black women, and those in the LGBTQ community who identified as women also had to join in the fight for women.
At the end of the day, beyond the beautiful dresses and sharp suits, the Oscars (or any award ceremony) can act as a platform for social issues to be raised and heard. Whether intentional or unintentional, the actions and words of Hollywood stars transcend political divides and highlight the biggest elephants in the room. If their intention was to raise awareness, they’ve certainly done so with the amount of conversations that are happening on the internet.
But even if they’ve cracked the ceiling, and brought attention to pertinent issues, it remains to be seen whether they can generate actual social change. Can they?