Less than six weeks since the Oscars – can you remember who won what?
It’s less than six weeks since the Oscars but can you still remember who won what? Yes, it was finally Leo’s year. Yes, Inarritu picked up Best Director for the second year running. And yes, the academy really did cold-shoulder Sly Stallone and hand the Oscar to Bridge of Spies’ Mark Rylance instead. But I bet the thing you remember the most is Chris Rock’s opening monologue. In what was probably Oscar’s most controversial year yet, host Rock pulled no punches and will be a hard act to follow.
We knew it was going to be a tough gig the minute Black actors and filmmakers began boycotting the awards because of the lack of diversity in the nominations, and then called on Rock to do the same. In the end, Rock did exactly what we expected him to do – turn up but not shut up. Rock didn’t flinch from saying it like it is, calling out both white and Black Hollywood. This was Rock’s second stint as host, a surprising return given that his insults to Jude Law during the 2005 ceremony were considered by many a joke too far. Call it fate, call it luck, but Rock – who is at his best when he has an axe to grind – just happened to be the right person, in the right place, at this pivotal moment in Oscar’s history.
It will be interesting to see how the 2017 awards evolve but one thing is clear: we are becoming more socially aware and demanding that things get done.
The Oscars ceremony, with a worldwide audience of over 40 million, is the perfect platform for addressing the masses. Since 1972, when Jane Fonda – nominated for Best Actress for Klute – chose to speak to reporters backstage about US foreign policy in Vietnam, many Oscar winners have chosen to use their few moments before the music cuts in to highlight causes close to their heart, from Vanessa Redgrave’s condemnation of the protestors who didn’t like the fact that the 1975 Best Actress winner for Julia – a biopic of Lillian Hellman who helped smuggle funds for the Anti-Nazi Movement – had made a pro-Palestinian documentary, to Tim Robbins & Susan Sarandon in 1993, addressing the U.S. government’s detention, at Guantanamo Bay, of HIV-positive Haitians fleeing a coup d’état, to last year, when the 2015 Best Supporting Actress winner (for Boyhood) Patricia Arquette rallied against pay inequality for women. Marlon Brando famously exercised his right not to accept his Best Actor Award for The Godfather in 1973, sending instead a Native American Indian called Sacheen Littlefeather to speak on his behalf against the treatment of her people by both the government and Hollywood itself.
However, these speeches have been the actions of individuals. Oscar, at best, tolerates such rhetoric but generally frowns upon stars getting on their soapbox, considering them something of an embarrassment. What changed this year is that instead of being the objective, non-threatening host who smiles and swiftly kicks controversial moments under the red carpet, Rock – as this year’s official face of the academy – came out all guns blazing and responded directly to the controversy.
Where does the Academy go from here? Social media has shown the people that it has the power to do something; to make a difference. To put things right. We are more socially and politically aware. How will the academy meet the challenge? They’ve tried before to respond to societal shifts, often with spectacularly bad results (getting down with the kids with the gloriously mismatched James Franco & Anne Hathaway in 2011, or going cutting edge a la Ricky-Gervais-Golden-Globes style with Seth McFarlane singing to Hollywood’s greatest leading ladies that “we saw your boobs”).
The biggest show in town is accustomed to the eyes of the world being firmly on it but the scrutiny in 2017 will be immense. The Academy needs to get this right – nominations and host alike.
Who do you think should host the 2017 Oscars?