Despite the award winners being relatively predictable, this year’s Oscars, which took place last Sunday night in Los Angeles, was full of surprises.
Some of these surprises included political speeches made by the likes of Patricia Arquette, Common, and John Legend, while others featured the performances of Lady Gaga and of the Oscar-winning song “Glory” from the Oscar-nominated Selma. The ceremony and its host, Neil Patrick Harris, even helped to perpetuate the Twitter hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” due to its 20 all white Best Actor and Actress in a Leading Role nominations.
Harris joked at the beginning of the night: “Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest—sorry, brightest”, which sent the audience into a roar of laughter. Many contested the award winners, claiming that the Academy members are all old, white men, and they’re not far off. 94 per cent of members are white, 76 per cent are men, and the average age is 63 years old. In fact, this smattering of Hollywood executives, actors, directors, writers, and other creatives is significantly more male-heavy and whiter than 43 of the 50 states in America.
These figures and demographics were not touched upon quite as much in recent years, perhaps because of the inclusion of many black actors and actresses and films. Last year, as 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture and the glorious Lupita Nyong’o took home the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, the “white” factor hardly came into the conversation.
This year, however, there existed only one black nomination among the foremost awards, and that was Best Picture contender Selma, a detailed and thorough, albeit graphic, account of the American civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr., and the epic march that began in Selma, Alabama and travelled 50 miles to Montgomery, Alabama. Despite many Academy members praising this film, its lead actor David Oyelowo, who played the role of Dr. King, was utterly snubbed for any nominations and quite noticeably so. The film’s featured song “Glory,” which won the award for Best Original Song, was performed by its writers John Legend and Common. This arguably served as a single grain of hope for any sort of appreciation of the predominantly black film as, by the song’s end, the entire audience were on their feet, and many, including Oyelowo, were crying. Legend and Common, whose real names are John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn, each gave a short speech about the importance of the song and the film. Common spoke of the bridge on which the march from Selma took place 50 years ago and claimed that it has developed into a symbol for change and unification.
Legend’s more controversial speech focused on the inequalities that still exist in America, most memorably noting that there are more black men incarcerated today than there were black men enslaved in 1850. Other politically driven speeches included that of Patricia Arquette, who won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Boyhood, who called for equal rights for women. The actress said: “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America”, to which Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez both leapt out of their seats to cheer on, clapping and punching the air.
Many speculated that Arquette’s speech was in response to the discovery, revealed in the Sony email leaks, that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams earned significantly less than their male co-stars. Julie Andrews came onto the stage as Gaga finished her performance, and the two embraced lovingly, setting the perfect mood for the last few awards. In spite of its somewhat foreseeable award winners, this year’s Oscars will certainly be remembered as one where surprises, politically-driven or not, took centre stage.