Oscars serve as platform for social issues

Published by adviser, Author: Joseph Szalinski - Commentary, Date: February 26, 2015

For many, the annual Academy Awards is a time to celebrate the hard work that many of Hollywood’s top filmmakers and performers have to offer. Speeches are given, usually thanking peers, colleagues, family and sometimes a higher power. But what seems like an emerging trend is using an acceptance speech (or any other opportunity at the microphone) as a platform to address problems that one feels needs to be highlighted. 

During the most recent Oscars ceremony Sunday, John Legend spoke of racial inequalities persisting, after giving a musical performance. Patricia Arquette, after receiving her award for best supporting actress, mentioned the pay disparity between men and women, and how that should be corrected. The director/writer of “The Imitation Game,” Graham Moore, even urged people to “Stay weird. Stay different.”

So the question is, should the Oscars be a political and social platform, or should it just be about the show business? I certainly have noticed widespread acceptance of any major event as a soapbox in recent years. The days of Marlon Brando receiving flack for having a Native American woman go up to receive his Oscar, and speak about her cause are over. 

Hollywood is full of open-minded people, and the world is even more so. And that’s who is being reached through the Internet streaming and the telecast. Even if only one person’s mind is changed, the speech is still effective. 

Personally, I like knowing that our movie stars are not simply soulless people who only care about the glitz, glamour and fame. I respect the brave individuals who speak their minds to oceans of audiences, across the country and across the world. These celebrities are also known to have either started up charities, or work with already established ones. Why would people expect people with such noble pursuits to remain silent? Celebrities are useful because they act as mouthpieces. 

If a film like “Selma” can highlight a social issue, then surely a 30-second speech about the same issue should certainly be expected and given the proper platform to be heard. 

Social issues require a great deal of people to cooperate in order to facilitate change. What better opportunity than an awards show that millions of people watch, to address the issue? Especially since the people being awarded are venerated and revered individuals? 

If we, as an audience, care about a two-hour piece of film, regardless of its artistic merit, then we should care about real-world concerns, such as hunger, environmental problems, homelessness, racial relations and pay inequality. We look at these films, milestones in cinema, and think about the legacy the creators are leaving. Well, why can’t we create a more profound and lasting legacy with our actions? The true way to make a difference is not just by being famous, but being willing to put in the work. Only certain people can make movies, but absolutely everyone can lend a hand.


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