Oscar speeches and politics are like ball gowns and bifocals: Few manage to combine them and pull it off.
But at Sunday’s Academy Awards, one winner after another struck more or less just the right note while using that world-famous platform for something deeper than “ego,” as best director winner Alejandro González Iñárritu put it.
From Patricia Arquette’s rousing shout-out for equal pay – cheered on by Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez – to John Legend’s reminder that “there are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850,” it was refreshing to see so many spotlight the issues so meaningfully.
“People with Alzheimer’s deserve to be seen so we can find a cure,” said Julianne Moore, whose portrayal of a stricken patient earned her the Oscar for best actress.
“This Oscar belongs to all of those people around the world battling ALS,” vowed best actor Eddie Redmayne, who played the disabled physicist Stephen Hawking.
“The disclosures that Edward Snowden revealed don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself,” documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras reminded viewers in her patriotic “Citizenfour” acceptance.
“When I was 16, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong,” young screenwriter Graham Moore confessed following his win for “The Imitation Game,” about the gay genius Alan Turing, who was persecuted in Great Britain. “And now I’m standing here. So I would like this moment to be for the kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do.”
Art doesn’t come from thin air. Artists do what they do because they want to say something. The Oscars, however, usually fail them as a medium for much beyond glitz and gratitude.
Time is short, the world is complex, the audience is huge, and the pressure can make even the words “thank you” sound tired, strident or awkward. And who among us wants to be lectured to by rich, beautiful people? That’s especially true if we find their sentiments and politics off-base or just a bit too trendy. So, over the decades, entertainers have learned not to push causes and take bows at the same time. Instead, we get gushing tributes to people we’ve never heard of.
That has made for less interesting Oscars. And it has given the world an incomplete picture of the entertainment industry and its capital, California.
Hollywood – like this state as a whole – has all sorts of players, left and right, smart and dumb, worldly and less so. Contrary to popular belief, some have ideas worth sharing. That its community finally seems to have figured out how to share them without alienating the rest of the country, well, that’s worth applauding.
“These awards are for my fellow Mexicans,” González Iñárritu said. “For the ones who live in Mexico, I pray that we can find and build the government we deserve.
“And for the ones who live in this country, the ones who are part of this latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”
Not the stuff of your everyday Oscar acceptance. But like Arquette, who, interestingly, accessorized her designer gown with reading glasses, the director totally pulled it off.