On Sunday night, like many of you, I watched the Academy Awards. I have always admired the art of film, but one aspect of the medium I am particularly grateful for is the voice is provides for those individuals and groups who have been marginalized throughout their lives. This Oscar season, political and social justice in America felt like more pertinent themes than ever. The films themselves -- from Selma to The Imitation Game to Still Alice and The Theory of Everything -- reflect historical and contemporary struggles with racism, gender and sexual discrimination, as well as personal health. Yet ironically, amidst the diversity of subjects remained a predominantly white male heteronormative image.
Within the plastic bubble of Hollywood, it's no secret that honesty is a rare commodity. So when nominees take advantage of their thirty-second time slots to bring attention to important social issues, I cheer them on whole-heartedly. My friends and I applauded during Patricia Arquette's speech in which she demanded that it was time for women to have equal rights in America. I smiled and nodded when Graham Moore, the screenwriter of The Imitation Game, encouraged LGBT adolescents to "stay weird."
By reaching out to those with whom these figures self-identify, celebrities empower entire populations. The most evident example of this phenomenon was when Alejandro Gozàlez Iñárritu, the director of Birdman, addressed his fellow Mexicans in his acceptance speech, saying, "The ones who live in Mexico, I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve." (After Iñárritu's speech, the hashtag #VivaMexico began trending on social media sites like Twitter.)
I could talk endlessly about the roles of marginalized groups in film, but I will not attempt to do that here. I would like to focus on the politically oriented messages delivered during this year's Oscars. Messages like the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's statement that, "At the Oscars...we honor filmmakers who cross borders and test boundaries...who encourage us to see the world and those around us in new ways." (Cheryll Boone Isaacs was recently voted in as the AMPAS's first ever African-American president and third female president.) Some messages from this Oscar season showed progress -- like a Mexican-American director winning the Oscar for best director two years in a row (last year was Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity). Other messages showed that we still have a long way to go, like the fact that six (arguably seven, if you include The Grand Budapest Hotel) out of the eight nominees for best picture featured a white male lead.
Despite the social turmoil, I believe that we live in one of the most exciting times in cinematic history. Films and the art of filmmaking are more accessible than ever, genres are blending together and technology is ever improving. But I worry that the social and political progression of America has not kept up with the fast-paced development of film technology. Don't get me wrong, I loved Boyhood and Birdman. (Still a little heartbroken about Boyhood not winning best picture, we won't go into that.) Richard Linklater's intimate look at a boy coming of age was beyond heartwarming, and the sweeping camera work in Iñárritu's film made me dizzy in a good way.
But lately I've found myself wanting more from film -- the new, the feminine, the "other." In an ideal world, this year's Oscars would help catapult radical change in the industry.
If anything, I think the ceremony at least made it clear that this change is necessary. Filmmakers, screenwriters, actresses and actors have helped to open up a political dialog. There has been some measurable progress, but there are still many faces to be seen and voices to be heard. My only hope is that films of the future will answer this call.