2016 Oscars Tackles Big Issues

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Lady Gaga performs at the Oscars joined by survivors of sexual assault

Rachel Tropp ’16
EE Editor-in-Chief

On February 28th, the 88th Academy Awards ceremony was held at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. For many reasons, this Oscar Sunday made history, but chief among them was the “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy. This year marked the second in a row in which no black actors were nominated, despite strong performances by Will Smith (Concussion), Michael Jordan (Creed), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Samuel Jackson (The Hateful Eight), and others. Critics of the social media reaction said that no black actors merited a nomination this year, but the people behind the movement explained that a large part of the problem is the lack of opportunity for black actors to be cast in Oscar-worthy roles, being instead relegated to “black” roles and only receiving significant roles in movies about slavery or people like Ray Charles.

Oscar host Chris Rock, a black comedian, gave an 11-minute opening monologue about this topic, explaining the “sorority racism” behind “liberal Hollywood’s” casting decisions. He received loud applause for his comedic approach to the issue, going so far as to say that despite previous years with no black nominees, in decades like the 1960s black people had bigger problems, like lynchings, that took precedence over Best Foreign Film Short.

Nevertheless, the Oscars featured other important moments and concerns. For one, Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech about campus sexual assault, urging viewers to pledge to help victims should they witness an assault, before introducing Lady Gaga’s performance of “When it Happens to You,” from the documentary The Hunting Ground. She was joined onstage by more than 50 survivors of sexual assault, with words written on their arms like “Not your fault.” It was one of the most powerful moments of the night, moving many in the audience to tears.

Another significant moment was Leonardo DiCaprio’s Best Actor win for The Revenant after five prior nominations and losses. He used his speech to discuss the importance of working to fight climate change. His director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won an Oscar for the second consecutive year, talked in his own speech about moving beyond skin color, while The Big Short screenwriter and Bernie Sanders supporter Adam McKay, whose film focused on the the Wall Street crash of 2008, talked in his speech about voting to protect America against the interests of big corporations.

As one of the largest television events of the year, the Oscars certainly made an impact for viewers and those tracking the night on social media. Big issues were certainly brought to light in a forum that meant the concerns would be heard by millions, yet the night was also a big one for fashion and music.  It seems this Oscar Sunday may have left a mark for history.

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