#OscarsSoWhite #OscarsSoStraight #OscarsSoMale. Yep, this year’s Academy Awards sure had a lot of criticisms and controversies heading into the ceremony. The Academy has since attempted to rectify the diversity problem within their membership, but this will happen over many years. This year’s Oscars were set to look almost like an exact replica of last year’s when Selma was excluded from every damn category. With a disappointing list of nominees (and frankly, a fairly disappointing year for quality, diverse films all round) the Oscars could have been dull and predictable. But with a host like Chris Rock, I knew we were in for a thrill ride.
In his opening monologue, Rock addressed the “Oscars So White” issue straight up, quipping, ‘I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards.’ What followed was joke after joke about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, with some hitting the right mark and others falling flat. In an attempt to shock his audience of mainly white people, Rock called Hollywood racist flat out saying, ‘You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist. But it isn’t the racist you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like: “We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.” That’s how Hollywood is.’ Cue cuts to the audience of white people awkwardly laughing.
No one is disagreeing that there weren’t award worthy roles for black actors this year, but the major problem is that you can’t be nominated for roles that simply don’t exist. As Rock so accurately said, ‘It’s not about boycotting anything, we want opportunity. We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors.’ Really, it’s Hollywood that needs to diversify; only then can the Oscars catch up.
Also, let’s not forget that black actors have won more awards than Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern and Indigenous actors have won combined. Whilst we should feel angry that Idris Elba was not nominated for Beasts of No Nation, award worthy performances from Puerto Rican Benicio del Toro in Sicario and Guatemalan Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina were also forgotten. Discrimination in Hollywood isn’t just a black and white issue, but it affects all races, sexualities and genders (don’t even start me on the exclusion of Carol from Best Picture and Best Director…).
In his opening monologue Rock also rightly addressed police brutality with the blisteringly lethal joke: ‘This year, in the In Memoriam package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on their way to the movies.’ However, he also poorly diminished the power of the #AskHerMore movement with a ridiculous misunderstanding, ‘Another big thing tonight is, you’re not allowed to ask women what they’re wearing anymore. It’s a whole thing, “Ask her more.” You have to “ask her more.” It’s like, you ask the men more. Everything is not sexism, everything is not racism.’ He obviously misunderstood the idea behind the hashtag: that it’s still okay to ask about what a woman is wearing as long as you also ask her about her achievements and why she’s dressed up in the first place. When sexism is a very real issue in Hollywood, just as much as racism, diminishing a movement like the #AskHerMore campaign isn’t doing anything to improve either cause.
Later in the ceremony we had a powerful performance by Lady Gaga of her Oscar-nominated song Til It Happens to You from the documentary, The Hunting Ground. The film explores the institutionalised acceptance of rape on college campuses and at the end of her performance Gaga was joined by a group of sexual abuse survivors, prompting a minute-long standing ovation by the audience. In a week where sexual assault has been in the media due to the great injustice done to Kesha, this global recognition could not have come at a better time.
When it came to giving out the actual awards of the night there were only a few shocks and surprises, with most of the awards going to the right people. Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his Oscar after six nominations since 1993. Although personally I think he has had more deserving performances than role as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, I still couldn’t be happier for the man (especially if it means the end to all those silly memes). The radiant Brie Larson deservedly won Best Actress for her gut wrenching and courageous turn in Room. Alejandro González Iñárritu won Best Director for his film The Revenant, which marked the first time in 65 years that someone has won that award consecutively.
Best Supporting Actor caused the first real upset of the night with the deserving Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies winning over crowd pleaser Sylvester Stallone in Creed. The Danish Girl’s Alicia Vikander beat out Rooney Mara, Kate Winslet, Rachel McAdams and (my pick) Jennifer Jason Leigh to take home Best Supporting Actress, which was the most competitive category of the night. Elsewhere, screenplay awards went to the sensational Spotlight and the sexist The Big Short, and Mad Max: Fury Road took home six awards in technical categories. Best Foreign Language Film went to the horrific but incredible Son of Saul; a film that could have easily been nominated for Best Picture as well if the Academy had any real sense. Best Documentary went to the loving tribute to Amy Winehouse, Amy, and Best Animated Feature of course went to the sub-par Pixar film, Inside Out.
Best Picture was perhaps the biggest “upset” of the night, with Spotlight taking it home over clear favourite The Revenant. It was a rare moment when the Academy actually chooses the more deserving film over the one with the most buzz. Although I do think The Revenant is an admirably good film, it didn’t leave a profound lasting impression like Spotlight did. With such a quiet, honest and unassumingly heroic nature about it, Spotlight’s win for Best Picture was by far the best thing the Academy did this year.