By Shambhavi Saxena:
There seems to be a growing consciousness among persons in the entertainment business, who will no longer take the weight of historical and systemic discrimination sitting down. In fact, they’re standing up to it, in front of the whole capacity of Dolby Theatre, Hollywood, and the viewership of anyone watching the Oscar’s telecast.
Winner for ‘The Imitation Game’ Graham Moore sees the Oscar stage as an important platform and one “might as well use it to say something meaningful.” In his own speech, Moore made a moving comment about the need to recognize suicide and depression as a pressing matter, this coming just six months after Hollywood loses beloved actor and comedian, Robin Williams.
Encouragingly, Moore was one of several others who took the opportunity to tie their acceptance speeches to real-world problems.
Patricia Arquette, who played the role of a mother in Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making film Boyhood, called for equal pay in her speech, receiving visible support from the likes of Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez. Could we see this as a change in Hollywood’s relationship with core feminist concerns? Arquette’s bold speech as well as Streep’s reaction seems indicative of an evolving attitude that doesn’t compromise on individual rights for the sake of standard expectations and behaviours.
Rapper Common, who appeared with singer John Legend, accepted the award for their song “Glory” (for the film Selma), holding his Oscar aloft and declaring “this is for the kid from the South Side of Chicago to those in France standing up for freedom of expression to those in Hong Kong protesting for democracy.” John Legend added to this, “There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.” One cannot ignore the song’s “lyrical references to recent events in Ferguson”. Through their performance, the words “resistance is us” seemed to be the most powerful statement of the night.
In the same vein, and in the form of self-reflexive jokes, Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris quipped that the hall was filled with “Hollywood’s best and whitest, sorry, brightest”. The comment was particularly relevant to the debates surrounding poor representation and involvement of non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual individuals that had bubbled up in the weeks preceding the ceremony.
While many raised valid concerns about the way in which Harris delivered his critiques, the fact remains that these criticism – of how discrimination and stigma pervades all spheres of life and interaction, whether it be daily social intercourse, or high profile events like the Oscars – now exist for us to chew on and hopefully evolve effective strategies and resolutions to systemic problems. Simply by virtue of being said, these comments have the power to usher in fresh debate, as well as reopen old ones, towards that end, and perhaps a day will come soon when not just the Oscars, but all institutions, will make conscious efforts to tackle the issues of race, gender, class and other lines on which discrimination is paraded.