The Oscars had something to interest everyone on Sunday night including lawyers and politicians with acknowledgements in various acceptance speeches on equal pay for women, gender equality, Voting Rights Act, mass incarceration, suicide awareness and immigration, to name a few. I believe the newly found awareness was rooted in what occurred after the Oscar nominations were announced. After the nominations, there were many discussions about the lack of diversity in the Oscars and particularly the snub of blacks and women. After all, the voters in the Academy are overwhelmingly white males. The lack of diversity led to the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.
This was the first year in many years where there was a blatant lack of diversity among those who were nominated. There was even talk of a boycott by the NAACP chapter in Los Angeles due to the lack of a nomination for Selma’s director Ava DuVernay, a black woman. But DuVernay advised that she did not want a boycott or any protests. If DuVernay didn’t want to make mention of her slight of being nominated for Best Director and the omission of the superb performance of David Oyelowo for his moving role as Martin Luther King, others, including John Legend and Common took to the podium to express their political statements.
Patricia Arquette who won for best supporting actress for her role in Boyhood gave a statement of fixing the gender pay gap for women as pat of her acceptance sppech. Arquette stated after the usual thank you’s, “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 our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!” One thing that was discovered in the Sony Hacking scandal was that many women in the acting industry are paid less than their male counterparts. I don’t know why that would come as a surprise to those in the acting community because women on average, for the same job, make only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. And for African American women, it’s 64 cents. And for Latina women, it goes down to 53 cents. And the pay gap is not based on jobs that women take as it starts right out of college for women. And it occurs with women with advanced degrees such as law. Arquette used her limited time and platform to make a statement that is timely and worth hearing by millions.
John Legend and Common won for best original song for their rendition of Glory, the theme of the movie, Selma. While Selma was snubbed in most categories, Legend and Common used their time to make the statement that the voting rights that blacks fought for in Selma is still being fought today. Saying Selma is now should be a rallying cry. The voting rights of minorities are being compromised today with the GOP enacted voter ID laws. Legend expressed the injustices of mass incarceration with the statement that there are more blacks in prison today that during slavery in 1850. The actual fact is taken from statistics quoted in The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. While blacks make up slightly more than 12% of the U.S. population, blacks who are either serving time, awaiting trial in jail, unable to make bail or on parole or probation make up more than 40% of those individuals under the criminal justice system. For those activists who are working to make a change in our criminal justice system, Legend wanted them to know that he stands with them. Sounding like a younger Harry Belafonte who walked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960’s, Legend stated that the role of the artist is also to be an activist.
And immigration rights were on the mind of winner Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Best Director for the movie, Birdman. Inarritu stated that this country was built on immigrants and he hoped for the day when immigrants will be treated with dignity in the U.S. And he hoped for the day when Mexicans will receive the type of government that they deserve in Mexico. The Oscar acceptance speeches infused with politics were few in an otherwise long night of boring accolades. I applaud those few winners who were courageous and wise enough to use their moment in time to speak about national issues to perhaps spark a movement.