Last week, our editorial board discussed the inequality and unfairness of the Academy. These judgements were based on nominations for this year, as well as years past. However, the 92nd Oscars took place this past Sunday with unexpected results. “Parasite” became the first ever foreign language film to win best picture. The South Korean film was up against favorites such as Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “1917,” “Joker,” and several other films starring angry white men. The only nomination with a female director, Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” was also beat out. “Parasite’s” win was monumental for an institution which has been criticized for failing to recognize anyone besides white men. When those representing the film took the stage, the film’s co-producer, Kwak Sin-ae took up the 45 seconds allotted for speech time, leaving no time for co-producer Miky Lee to speak. However, when Lee was cut off, and lights dimmed as the Oscars was wrapping, from the audience Tom Hanks began to chant, “Up! Up! Up!”, eventually leading a crowd to persuade the Academy raise the lights and allow Lee to speak as well. This moment was just one of a handful that showed how the actors are helping bridge the gap in inequality.
In last week’s article, we discussed the importance of individual actions when a larger governing body fails. This was following Joaquin Phoenix’s speech about the exclusion of people of color in Hollywood, following the acceptance of his BAFTA award. Now, looking back at the Oscars, it is obvious that despite the injustices of the Academy, Hollywood and our society in general, individuals given the platform they are on, are taking a stand for those who don’t have a voice.
Acceptance speeches, although timed and sometimes stopped after only a minute, have become opportunities for award winners to make a statement or bring light to certain issues. Brad Pitt, when accepting his Oscar for best supporting actor in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” used his speech to quickly fire shots at congressional Republicans. Accepting his award, Pitt said, “They told me you only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week. I’m thinking maybe Quentin does a movie about it. In the end, the adults do the right thing.” It was obvious that Pitt was talking about the impeachment hearings, which just wrapped up with an acquittal last week.
Joaquin Phoenix then took the stage, accepting his Oscar for best actor for his role in “Joker”. Phoenix again used his speech to bring up several topics of sociopolitical issues, again touching on the sexism and racial bias in Hollywood, but also quickly discussing issues such as environmental degradation and animal rights.
One of “Joker’s” other wins for the night, for best original score, opened another opportunity for an acceptance speech to bring up prevalent issues in Hollywood. Accepting the award was Hildur Guðnadóttir, composer for the original score and the first female score winner in 23 years. Hildur Guðnadóttir used her speech to discuss the importance of gender equality in the arts, saying, “To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music opening within, please speak up. We need to hear your voices.”
Outside of speeches, statements were made through wardrobe. Natalie Portman walked the red carpet in a robe which was embroidered with the names of several female directors who were not recognized for their work this year. Given the fact that only five female directors have ever been nominated for best director in the history of the Oscars, the list was long. Names included Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim), Kasi Lemmons (Harriet), Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) and Alma Har’el (Honey Boy), according to Deadline. Portman told the Los Angeles Times, “I wanted to recognize the women who were not recognized for their incredible work this year in my subtle way.”
A lot of times, institutions fail us. We expect large bodies such as the Academy, or in Pitt’s case, Congress, to recognize and consider the work and desires of us everyday people. More often than not, though, we are let down. With these failures to recognize what the general population wants happening over and over again, it would be easy to feel defeated and to have little to no trust or faith in those who are supposed to be representing the us. However, if the Oscars this year taught us anything, it’s that monumental change is possible. “Parasite’s” win represents the turning of the ship; granted, that ship is turning pretty slowly, but it’s happening. Also, when institutions fail us, we can take heart in knowing that those with platforms larger than our own aren’t letting it go unnoticed. The various speeches and wardrobe decisions by those who have some of the largest influence in culture show that if anyone is listening, they are.