Redemption at the Oscars
For the longest time, people looked to the Oscars to know which Hollywood movies to check out or download, who made it to this year’s best- and worst-dressed list, and which hottest couple to watch.
The Oscars, that once-a-year bonanza for haute couture and bling designers, used to be pure entertainment: glitz, glamour and cleavage galore, and people knew not to expect more than the occasional brilliant acceptance speech, some laughable gaffes, or, as in last year’s Twitter-breaker, a trending topic or selfie on the social media.
Which was why this year’s ceremony was a pleasant surprise and heartwarming revelation, showing as it did just how powerful a force celebrity and entertainment can be in pushing the social good. For the first time, the big words, the issues that matter, were magnified, not on the big screen, but presented onstage and proffered as possibilities by the winning performers who chose to bring their roles into real life.
John Legend, who, along with Common, sang the Best Original Song “Glory” for the movie “Selma,” said it best: “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the time in which we live”—a frank commentary on the racism that still prevails in the United States despite its black president and 50 years after the events recounted on film.
As an independent woman guiding her son through the perils of adolescence in “Boyhood,” Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette found herself voicing out what surely must be the common plaint of overworked and underpaid women everywhere. She declared proudly, defiantly, what has been tamped down in polite formal company: “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s time to have wage equality once and for all.”
Just as riveting was the compelling narrative by a visibly excited Graham Moore, who won for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Imitation Game,” and who spoke of the constraints and cruelty of social conventions when he confessed to almost killing himself when he was 16. “Because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here and I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or doesn’t fit anywhere. Yes, you do.”
Suicide also found a platform in the acceptance speech of Dana Perry, one of the producers of the Best Documentary Short, “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” on the struggles of returning veterans. Perry dedicated her Oscar to her son who suffered from bipolar disorder and committed suicide in 2005. “We should talk about suicide out loud,” she said.
And so on, as America’s best performers held up an unwavering mirror to the issues that define and shape our reality—ALS, as portrayed brilliantly by Best Actor Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything,” for which he made an impassioned plea for support and understanding; Alzheimer’s disease and how it imprisons people behind a fog of fading memory in the movie “Still Alice” (Best Actress Julianne Moore in the title role), and the need to be vigilant about one’s right to privacy and free expression, as the producers of “Citizenfour” said so aptly of whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Truly a refreshing change, this marked maturity in how celebrities see themselves—no longer just chiseled mannequins on which to hang precious baubles and threads, but thinking, feeling individuals who, like ordinary folk, are touched by the universality of the human experience and are now willing to put it out there.
But definitely, the Oscars have come a long way from 1973 when boos and tepid applause greeted Best Actor Marlon Brando’s statement on the big screen’s portrayal of American Indians.
Of course, the ceremony could have done away with that joke about Snowden being unable to make it for some treason, and Sean Penn’s throwaway gag about an SOB being given a green card. Then again, what a sharp comeback Best Director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, a Mexican, exploded in the face of Penn’s flaccid attempt at levity: He spoke of gratitude and the need for respect and dignity “for the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”
Even more wonderful was how social media has picked up the signals for a free exchange on current concerns, with netizens weighing in on the issues raised by their favorite Oscar-toting performer. Indeed, this year’s ceremony is hands down the big winner in showing how entertainment can be relevant and how celebrities can use their wattage to light up the increasingly dark times we live in.
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