Columns, Opinion

CARIKER: And The Oscar Goes To… Social Change

Don’t get me wrong — I love the Oscars as much as the next person. Every year, I station myself in front of my TV and immerse myself in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, hoping that my favorite films of the year will win everything.

However, this was the first year that the Oscar facade lifted its pretty veil to reveal some of the more ugly aspects behind it. Maybe it’s just because I’m paying more attention, or maybe this year was a little more off than usual, but there are definitely some problematic features that are swept under the rug.

Neil Patrick Harris starting out the show with “tonight, we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry, brightest.” was a joking way to jab at the Academy, but honestly, the A cademy’s bias is pretty offensive. Their clear lack of nominations for black actors and actresses in most categories this year wasn’t subtle, and it wasn’t OK.

The “Selma” snub is a whole issue in itself. No best director nomination for Ava DuVernay, the director of “Selma,” or for David Oyelowo for best actor in his role as Martin Luther King Jr., both of which were clearly deserved.

John Legend and Common’s performance of “Glory” from Selma, which was up for Best Original Song, was one of the most moving moments of the night. They did win the Oscar, and their acceptance speech hit the nail on the head. Legend made the point that “‘Selma’ is now,” and stated that more black men are incarcerated currently than were under slavery in 1850. The speech was moving and so important, especially because it was said at the Oscars, so it will get the attention from the public that it should.

Casual racist comments made appearances throughout the show, some specifically toward actress Zendaya, who debuted her dreadlocks at the event. Giuliana Rancic, a co-host of E! Network’s Fashion Police, said Zendaya’s dreadlocks looked “like they smell like patchouli oil and weed.” It was clearly meant to be a joke, but wow, it was not even remotely funny.

It’s comments like this that are especially troublesome, because they’re said so off-handedly, and most people just laugh them off. Zendaya didn’t think it was funny whatsoever, and went off on Rancic on Twitter, causing Rancic to give her the apology she deserved. It seemed like a lot of people were just looking for laughs or to be recognized for their “witty” comments, without realizing the implications of what they were saying.

Sean Penn’s joke about “Birdman” director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s immigration status right before announcing his film as the winner of best picture of the year caused many to cringe. The intentions were light-hearted, and Iñárritu even said it was funny, but the comment seemed insensitive and out of place. It seems like people will associate the win with the joke, which takes away from the honor of his win.

There were many parts of the show that showed progress or a want for progress and placed attention on important issues through the media outlet. Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equality and equal rights for women in her acceptance speech for best supporting actress had me absolutely cheering (if you did watch the Oscars, I looked very similar to Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez in that moment).

The Oscars are unnecessarily complex for women in the red carpet portion, where they are picked apart and judged for what they wear while the men just slide by in their suit and ties. The Oscars seemed to be aimed for the success of men, but this year, many of the actresses had enough of only being asked about what they were wearing, and the hashtag #AskHerMore started up on Twitter. The movement was meant to encourage media interviewers to stop asking female actresses about just their dresses and ask them questions that they would ask men, such as about their films. It was meant to kill the double standard, and it did a pretty good job.

It was a very feminist Oscars, which projects a positive message for young women and shows advancement in the Hollywood and media spotlight. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done. We can’t let the entertaining parts of award shows blind us from the more understated issues that make an appearance every year. Millions of people tune in and are influenced by what is said by people in the entertainment industry that they admire.

Using fame as an outlet to project encouraging messages calling for change is great, and many people do take advantage of it. However, it’s important for those who do the opposite to watch what they say and think about how much of an impact their racist, sexist, xenophobic comments have on those who admire them. Everyone should watch award shows more critically and not simply take everything that is said at face value.

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