It’s been more than three weeks since the Oscars, yet there is still much about the event that can be analyzed. The ceremony was rife with political undertones and didn’t shy away from addressing issues such as race and feminism.
After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy last year over a lack of representation by minority groups, there were assurances from the Academy that they would rectify this blunder. For the most part, they made good on their promise.
When Viola Davis won a Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Fences, I was ecstatic. I always thought she had been overlooked at the 2012 Oscars when she was nominated in the Best Actress category for her portrayal of African-American maid Aibileen Clark in The Help.
Davis’ win was both well-deserved and long overdue. Looking back on the 2012 ceremony, before the advent of Twitter social movements, I realized that the seeds for #OscarsSoWhite were already being planted. That year, Meryl Streep won Best Actress over Davis for her role as former U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. At the time, I thought little of it.
Don’t get me wrong: Streep is extremely talented with years of acting experience under her belt. But that’s not the issue here. The fact of the matter is, why didn’t the Academy vote for Davis, an African-American actress? Why didn’t they give more recognition to a film about the 1960s U.S. civil rights movement? This was the perfect opportunity to send a message, and Hollywood chose not to take it.
Fast forward five years later and one could argue that the Academy has redeemed itself. Davis finally got her hands on a golden statuette, and #OscarsSoWhite has become #OscarsSoBlack.
At this year’s ceremony, one of the most important moments of the night belonged to Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), who became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. Amidst the current political climate, it’s refreshing to see that at least Hollywood is keeping an open mind, which is more than I can say for the U.S. government. Take that, Donald Trump.
Let’s not forget about Hidden Figures, which was another prominent film at this year’s Oscars. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe play African-American mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, respectively. All three women were instrumental in the development of the U.S. space program at NASA.
A few days ago, I watched Hidden Figures for the first time and couldn’t help but think about how it could influence someone’s life. Every young girl needs to watch this film and be reminded of the fact that women have the power to change history. The world doesn’t only belong to white, middle-aged men; there is a place for everyone to succeed and thrive.
June Eric-Udorie, an 18-year-old writer and editorial trainee from the U.K., recently took several hundred African-American girls to a screening of Hidden Figures. This is the type of impact that films can have, and I encourage everyone to watch it. Better yet, do what Eric-Udorie did, and invite a young girl to go see the movie with you. Empower women to achieve their goals, no matter how impossible they may seem.
To all the underrepresented individuals in film, I applaud you. Keep writing inspiring stories and acting your hearts out. Most importantly, never stop fighting for what you believe in. Hollywood and the rest of the world need to know more about the amazing work that you do.
- Stephanie Li is a second-year political science student at Western.