The Oscars: political debate or award show?

The Oscars have long been host to speeches on political and social issues, but are the motivations behind them genuine, or just a PR move?


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At the Grammy Awards, we saw Billie Eilish win big. At the Golden Globes, we heard a number of Ricky Gervais jokes, one being how Netflix would win everything. But this year’s Academy Awards brought us sharp political commentary that has us pondering at the whims of hearing these statements, does this ignite change?

Gervais told celebrities over Twitter not to make their acceptance speeches political. He wrote there is no problem with celebrities using their platform to address real-world issues; however, it’s “when they lecture every day, hard-working people, it has the opposite effect.”

The Academy Awards hit an all-time low for viewership this year, declining in views by 6 million from 2019. Perhaps, the lack of nominations for women and people of color left a sour impression on Americans. However, this trend of hypocrisy from the Academy, simply based on who gets nominated and who gets snubbed, is nothing new.

The social media thread #OscarsSoWhite strives to call out the Academy and fuel conversations about the systemic racism in the film industry. There is a push for the Academy to be more evolved, meanwhile, the award winners have their own agenda.

For those audiences who did watch the award ceremony, they witnessed actors like Brad Pitt and Joaquin Phoenix use their 45 seconds to address criticisms over political controversies, examples including the Republican Party or animal welfare activism.

When it was Joaquin Phoenix's turn to accept his award for best actor in “Joker,” simply thanking his wife or fellow co-stars and director would not suffice. Instead, he rallied behind causes such as cancel culture, veganism and animal welfare.

My thoughts on this are that I personally believe it’s difficult for audiences to feel the larger effects of political commentary. This is simply because it's not the central reason why Americans tune in for the evening. Instead of hearing commentary, I believe tangible impact is ignited upon hearing the speeches from winners who have changed history or achieved something by receiving their award.

In 2002, Halle Berry became the first Black woman to win the title of best actress for her movie “Monster’s Ball.”

The moment she won, audiences could not only see but feel the raw emotion as Halle Berry wept on stage while clutching her Oscar. She dedicated her award to other great women of color in the industry such as Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne.

It’s during these moments where audiences feel the power of an art form to not only make history but move our society forward in a positive direction. Seeing the overwhelming joy radiating from Halle Berry is the exact reason why viewers want to watch the Academy Awards.

This year, Bong Joon-ho’s four wins for his film “Parasite” was another defining moment for the American film landscape. The film made history as the first-ever foreign-language film to win best picture.

Instead of remarking on social politics, Joon-ho used his time to specially mention the influence of his idol Martin Scorsese, whose work inspired him to make films. That moment would be known as a great historical achievement for Bong Joon, and rather than discussing political matters, he expressed his gratitude toward another nominee. As a viewer, I found pure happiness in this. It was a moment where Americans watching felt a sense of unity roused by his speech.

It doesn't go without saying that not all political commentary is wrong. I must say that it does prove relevant during current times.

In 2003, Michael Moore, Oscar winner for the documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” vocally criticized former President George W. Bush because he announced days before the awards that he was ordering troops to Iraq.

It was condemning the promotion of gun violence and it was totally relatable to the subject matter of the film. Therefore, Moore’s speech provided a level of substance; it wasn’t forced or out of place. Perhaps, it even provoked Americans to consider the harrowing effects of gun violence because of the ideas expressed in the film.

People watch the awards because they are interested in film or the people who created those films. Over the years, political commentary has made a presence at the award shows; and now, it seems it’s become a norm. Though, these winners are not focused on just one hot-button issue. There is no narrow end-goal, and instead, celebrities propose ideas that they are personally moved by.

Hearing a slate of political commentary, whether celebrities are discussing climate change, animal welfare or the oppression of Native Americans can hinder the magnitude of its overall effect.

The point is, Americans who are invested in the film industry want to see a change in the Academy. It is never so much about what the Oscar winners are saying, but rather it’s about who’s winning.

Personally I do not believe all political commentary is inappropriate; however, there needs to be a leveled portion of commentary. Therefore, I suggest to these celebrities to keep pursuing films that propose and emphasize change — and that way we can all eagerly keep watching and learn.

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