Political causes steal the Oscars show
Tearful acceptance speeches gave way to politics at Sunday night’s Academy Awards. Movie stars and directors delivered serious messages before the serious partying. Is Hollywood growing up?
It was a night of firsts at Sunday’s 86th Academy Awards, the theme of which was fittingly, ‘heroes’. Steve McQueen became the first black director to win an Oscar for best picture, for his historical drama ‘12 Years a Slave’, while Alfonso Cuaron became the first Latin American to win the trophy for best director, one of seven awards for the space thriller ‘Gravity’.
Serious films touching on profound themes and controversial issues dominated this year’s awards, and were accompanied by several thoughtful, acceptance speeches. The emotion for which the Oscars has often been ridiculed was still in evidence, but effusive, tearful thanks were balanced by heartfelt appeals for the film industry and the viewing public to think and act on what they had seen on screen.
McQueen dedicated his award to all those who have endured slavery, and the 21 million still enslaved today. Actor Jared Leto dedicated his award to AIDS sufferers and to the people of Ukraine and Venezuela, currently engulfed by violence and division. Cate Blanchett, who won best actress, took the opportunity to argue that the industry should do more to promote films that focus on women.
But the most talked-about speech of the evening came from newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, who won best supporting actress for her part in McQueen’s epic, her first film. ‘It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s,’ she said, with a humility that was widely praised.
So is this year’s ceremony evidence that Hollywood is finally growing up? Alongside the political appeals, there was still time for tomfoolery. Bradley Cooper’s ‘selfie’ alongside several other grinning famous faces, including Jennifer Lawrence and Brad Pitt, became the most retweeted image of all time, beating a 2012 photo of Michelle and Barack Obama.
Down to Earth
Some commentators believe Sunday’s speeches mark a change in Hollywood’s attitude: ‘There were moments where it seemed like the relationship between Hollywood and the wider world could consist of something more than exploitation and snickering,’ suggested one. Others go further, claiming that this year’s Oscars, by celebrating and recognising films about individuals overcoming oppression, could make the world a better place.
To others, the Oscars remain nothing more than an opportunity for preening superstars to pat themselves on the back. They know little about the real struggles and hardships of the lives portrayed in their films. Even this year’s winners could not refrain from narcissism as Cooper’s selfie proves. Matthew McConaughey, who thanked himself in his acceptance speech, was just more honest than the rest.
- Can celebrities make the world a better place?
- Will ‘12 Years a Slave’ help combat modern slavery, or will the audience view it simply as fiction or history?
- In groups, research one of the causes or issues tackled in this year’s winning films or in the speeches at the ceremony.
- Write a short article about a film you think has influenced the way people think.
Some People Say...
“Being a film star is such a false life, lived for fake values and for publicity.’Vivien Leigh”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I haven’t seen any films which have won an Oscar. Should I?
- Most people agree that the Oscars are the biggest film awards in the world, honouring the greatest films ever made, so watching a few past or present wins is well worth it. In the past, the Academy’s choices have divided opinion: ‘Forrest Gump’ and ‘Chicago’, which both won best picture, arguably beat more deserving films.
- And do I have to pay attention to all the issues raised?
- The Oscars ceremony is often said to be as famous for the speeches as for the films, and viewers all around the world look forward to self-indulgent outbursts, embarrassing snubs, and bouts of uncontrollable sobbing. This year both directors and stars have tried to use their platform to promote causes: it would be great to think some of us might investigate further.
- Real-life heroes, Captain Phillips and Philomena Lee, were in the Oscars audience. They provided the inspiration for the two titular Oscar-nominated films.
- #OscarsforVenezuela became a trending hashtag in the lead up to the ceremony. It was started by activists as a way of encouraging Oscar nominees to raise the profile of the government protesters in Venezuela, who are protesting rampant crime and lack of basic staples. The hashtag has been used more than 670,000 times in the last four days. Venezuelan actor Albi De Abreu, commented about the Oscars: ‘It is the only way we have to communicate our violated human rights to the world.’
- The words ‘four more years’, coupled with a photo of Barack and Michelle Obama embracing after his re-election victory, became the most retweeted Twitter post ever in 2012, receiving over half a million retweets. By the end of the Oscars ceremony, Cooper’s selfie had been retweeted more than two million times, and briefly crashed Twitter.
- The term, which is used to describe excessive vanity or egotism, originates from the Greek myth of Narcissus — a youth who fell in love with his own image in a pool of water. After hours spent gazing at his reflection, he turned into a flower, called the narcissus.
- Thanked himself
- McConaughey thanked God, himself, and finally his hero: himself in ten years’ time.