Editorials

Editorial: What made the Oscars worthwhile this year

By
Tuesday, February 24, 2015

This year’s Academy Awards ceremony, while far from perfect, was worth the watch. Aside from the red carpet glamor, the ostentatious displays of wealth and Neil Patrick Harris’ (bad) jokes, this year’s ceremony illustrated to viewers the extent of our culture’s tolerance — both how American society has evolved to incorporate the values we claim to constitutionally defend and how much further we have to go.

Many on campus have expressed sentiments ranging from disappointment to outrage at the lack of representation of a more diverse filmmaking body since the Academy Awards nominees were announced in January. This is especially true in regards to Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” a film that tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1965 campaign for equal voting rights. Despite widespread critical acclaim, no major prognosticators picked the film to win Best Picture — an acknowledgement that it was not a serious contender in the race. While unfortunate, this reality is both unsurprising and predictable. This year, all of the Best Actor and Actress nominees and Best Supporting Actor and Actress nominees were white.

Given the lack of diversity in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — in terms of both its members and its films — “Selma’s” plotline, which depicts the black civil rights movement’s struggle and success without the typical “white savior” character, does not fit into the typical mold. Still, “Selma’s” position as a non-contender is a pertinent case study of an issue that pervades our culture and underscores the evident disparity between the country we are and the one we claim to be.

Despite this concern, the 87th Academy Awards did show us that our country has made some progress in embracing both diversity and more diverse values in the American film industry. “Selma” was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Original Song for Common and John Legend’s “Glory.” The Oscars also reflected the changing views of the American public — Laura Poitras’ “CitizenFour,” which tells the story of Edward Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency leaks, won for Best Documentary. Harris called the Oscars a ceremony that honors “Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry, brightest” — a joke, but also a poignant condemnation. Patricia Arquette, who won Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Boyhood,” discussed how “all women deserve equal pay” in her acceptance speech. Other award winners talked about suicide awareness, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, incarceration and Alzheimer’s disease.

But more than the speeches made by individuals, it is the commercial and critical success enjoyed by films about those subjects, as well as post-traumatic stress and gay rights, that testify to progress. Their impact is visible and immediate. Projects like these are related to a larger political and social environment, particularly in the case of “Selma,” whose actors wore shirts bearing “I Can’t Breathe” in solidarity with Eric Garner at the film’s New York premiere. Those on Twitter participated in the discussion Sunday evening with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Some even boycotted the screening altogether. These films do not just exist on screen. They can incite action, which is something that we, as members of a student community dealing with the same issues, should take advantage of. If watching the Oscars this year spurred progressive thought in viewers, the glitz and the glamor were worth it.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Baxter DiFabrizio ’15. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.