In the wake of not only last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy but Donald Trump’s election, the 89th annual Academy Awards was always going to be politically charged. The whole world was watching to see whether, after an extremely white 2016, the ceremony would address the issues of diversity and racism; many were also looking to see whether the celebrities attending could put aside their issues with Donald Trump for one night. To the criticism of many who believe celebrities should not speak out on politics, many actors did use their platform to discuss issues of diversity, oppression, and marginalisation not only in Hollywood but in the world at large. This is a good thing, considering we live in a universe where a billionaire reality TV star is somehow president and managing to cause shockwaves of harm across his own country and the world; right now, it’s wholly necessary to speak out on political issues. Not only that, but many of the winners and nominees are not only immigrants but in some cases cannot even attend due to Trump’s politics, so politics absolutely cannot be divorced from Hollywood in 2017.
All of the issues surrounding the Oscars converged this year to create a ceremony that was diverse, political, and didn’t shy away from the issues so prevalent today. Jimmy Kimmel skewered Donald Trump in his hosting speeches from his opening monologue, when he said, “I want to thank President Trump. I mean, remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?”, both acknowledging the diversity and Trump controversies at once. Throughout the night he discussed Trump regularly, even tweeting him, 'u up?'. He also made some pretty problematic comments about an Asian woman’s name, but, uhh, he tried I guess?
However, it was really in the brave actions and speeches of others, especially minority actors and industry members, that the controversies were truly addressed. When Alessandro Bertolazzi won for his makeup work on Suicide Squad, he dedicated his award to, 'all the immigrants.' In one of the most overt political statements of the night, Asghar Farhadi did not attend to accept his award For* The Salesman*; instead he sent the first Iranian to go into space to accept his award, and to give a politically-charged and beautiful speech in his place. She said, “'My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations whom have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US.' When presenting an award, Mexican actor Gael García Bernal said,'as a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being I'm against any form of wall that wants to separate us.' Finally, Khaleb Khatib won for The White Helmets but could not come as he had to stay in Syria; the person who accepted the award in his place quoted the Quran, in a loud statement about the current climate. These are very few examples of many speeches tonight in which the work and current plight of immigrants in America were highlighted, and all of which serve as a reminder not only of the wide-ranging impact of Trump’s policies, but of the importance of discussing them.
Moonlight managed to overtake La La Land in many categories, even winning Best Picture, and its cast and crew had some of the best speeches of the night prepared. When it won for best adapted screenplay, they said, 'for the next four years we will not leave you alone, and we will not forget you,' and, 'to all the black and brown boys and girls and gender nonconforming individuals, this is for you.' When it won for Best Picture in a very surprising twist, Romanski said, 'I hope even more than that it's inspiring to people, little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalised.'
Most of the speeches this evening veered into the political, and that’s more than okay. It’s even necessary in these tumultuous times, and I only hope that in years to come both at the Oscars and outside, even when the diversity spotlight is slightly off the Academy, this kind of platform-using will continue. Far from vague allusions, the direct name-dropping of Trump and references to 'four years' are entirely necessary; this isn’t down to the Academy, but to those individuals working in Hollywood.
Politics cannot be divorced from Hollywood because Hollywood is made up of people. Human people who come from all over the world and are directly affected by issues of diversity and oppression. Not only that, but when a person has a platform and has influence and resources, why shouldn’t they use it benefit those who don’t? We criticise celebrities when we perceive them to be vapid, and we criticise them when they attempt not to be. Celebrities using their platform to try and influence real change is noble and it’s necessary in the time we live in. The themes surrounding the Oscars on Sunday night simply could not be ignored, and I for one am glad that nobody tried to gloss over them with Hollywood magic. Hollywood is about escapism, sure, but it can also be about truth. We need both right now.
**Liked this? You might also be interested in: **
Follow Marianne on Twitter @marianne_eloise
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.