The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, has celebrated the film industry for decades. This year, 2016, marks the 88th year of the awards, and the show was nothing short of entertaining. But aside from the glamour of it all, many of the winners and performers chose to use this show as an opportunity to address sensitive and important issues in our society and our world.
Chris Rock hosted the show, and he focused on the issue of race. Initially, people were surprised that Rock did not boycott the Oscars like Will and Jada Smith, but he explained that “we want opportunity.” He then proceeded to mock the industry throughout the night. One of his many lines included, “If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get the job.” Rock’s hosting of the show has received mixed reviews. “His job was to speak some uncomfortable truths about Hollywood and also, by doing so, to let Hollywood off the hook,” remarked A.O. Scott, from the NY Times. But many of his comments were perhaps not very well received. The film industry is largely dominated by white people, mainly men, but is slowly becoming more diverse. But there is still significant work to be done in that department.
This discussion of race continued on through the evening, as others commented on it, including Kevin Hart, and Alejandro González Iñárritu, Director of The Revenant. Mr. Iñarritu, who is from Mexico, commented that he hoped people could “make sure for once and forever that the color of the skin become as irrelevant as the length of our hair.”
Another important issue discussed was sexual assault, and Vice President Joe Biden urged people to take the pledge against campus sexual assault when he introduced Lady Gaga for her performance of “Til It Happens To You.” Spotlight, a film about journalists from the Boston Globe uncovering a case of child molestation within the Catholic church, won Best Picture, which also highlighted the issue of sexual abuse and assault.
Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes won Original Song for “Writing’s on the Wall,” and Smith dedicated his award to the LGBTQ community. He incorrectly stated that he was the first openly gay man to win an Oscar, but later apologized.
Climate change even made an appearance when Leonardo DiCaprio received Best Actor. In his acceptance speech he addressed the issue, explaining that The Revenant was a movie about “man’s relationship with the natural world… Climate change is real. It is happening right now,” Di Caprio stated. He dedicated his speech to “the people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed.” Also to note, DiCaprio finally won an Oscar after being nominated six times, including this year’s nomination, and it is commendable that he used his win as an opportunity to speak on an important issue.
Award shows are often somewhat dull and perhaps even cringe-worthy at times. But I think it is a very visible platform for people with influence to discuss serious issues. This year’s show was a prime example of that.
In terms of diversity, I did not realize how unequal the film industry is in representing people of races other than white. Yes, it is slowly becoming more diverse, as more women and people of varying races are being recognized for their work in film, but it is still very apparent that race is a problem. A trending hashtag for the Oscars was #OscarsSoWhite. And this is not entirely untrue. The great majority of winners and nominees were white people, and that is unfortunately not a surprise. Chris Rock’s comments, while somewhat inappropriate, addressed a real issue in the industry. I hope that this changes in years to come.