Taking a Stand Through Film: Arts as an Influence
Over 30 million people come together on one night, every year. They all turn to the same channel, for the same reason. February 28th may seem like any other day of the year for some, but for those who turned to ABC, it was the day of the 2016 Academy Awards. People from all over the world tuned in to celebrate the talent and passion of those who push above and beyond in the film industry. With that many ears turned to listen, it was a great opportunity for the Academy to address issues America has been fighting for quite some time.
From the very first motion picture ever made in 1878, to Spotlight, film is one of the most influential forms of art of all time. A form of visual expression, film has both changed with society, and influenced society’s change. But, along with the magic that film brings, comes the responsibility to use the power of the arts to inform and improve society.
For the second year in a row, the actors and actresses nominated for Best Supporting and Leading role did not include any people of color. In response, many actors and actresses chose to boycott this year's ceremony.
“I think that diversity is the American superpower,” Will Smith, among those not in attendance, stated, in an interview on ABC News. “I think I have to fight for and protect the ideals that make our country and make our Hollywood community great. So when I look at the series of nominations of the Academy, it's not reflecting that beauty."
Mark Ruffalo was another actor who realized that something was wrong within this year’s list of nominees. Though he was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, he woke up the morning of the Oscars and seriously considered not attending. “If you look at Martin Luther King’s legacy, what he was saying was that the good people who don’t act are much worse than the wrongdoers,” Ruffalo said in an interview with BBC News.
Both Smith and Ruffalo’s words contribute to the message the Academy seemed to be sending on the night of the event. Film has the opportunity to influence generations to come, so how could we not take advantage of the diverse talent Hollywood has to offer? President Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ speech addressed the diversity issues the Academy seems to be having; “It's not enough to just listen and agree. We must take action.”
Spotlight, this year’s Best Film of the Year, is about just that. When a series of past stories comes to the surface, surrounding allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, the Boston Globe investigates decades worth of cover-ups to reveal the truth.
The night quickly became one of reflection, as everyone realized the truth behind Isaac's’ words. It was hard for many to celebrate the artistry demonstrated, when it seemed that a portion of the community was missing.
As the ceremony went on, Vice President Joe Biden took to the stage for a different issue, though an equally important one: “Despite significant progress over the last few years, too many women and men, on and off college campuses, are still victims of sexual abuse.” Introducing Lady Gaga for her powerful performance of “Til it Happens to You,” Biden continued to encourage everyone to take a stand, and “change the culture. We must and can change the culture.” Gaga’s song was written for the movie, “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary telling the stories of college students who were victims of sexual abuse on their college campuses, and the hardships they faced in their fight for justice. Biden pushed everyone to take the pledge on itsonus.org:“I will intervene in situations when consent has not or cannot be given. Let's change the culture.”
Room was a film nominated for the Best Picture award, and it delved deeper into Biden’s cause. It told the story of a woman who was kidnapped at seventeen and kept in a shed for seven years, sexually abused on a nightly basis. She eventually gave birth to her son and raised him in that single room until he was five, when they escaped. Brie Larson, who played the lead role, won the award for Best Actress. Her performance in the movie did a spectacular job at portraying the horrors sexual assault victims face, and Room is just another example of a movie that uses it’s power to take a stand and educate.
The Oscars come together to celebrate talent, passion, and artistry on one night a year. But maybe it’s become difficult to celebrate so much, when there are so many things that need to be said. Our generation is in the best position to change the future. We can’t continue to celebrate when there is so much that still needs to be said. Just like many of the talented folks involved in movies like Room and Spotlight, we need to use our passion for the arts to take a stand.