The most highly sought-after recognition an actor, director, editor, or film musician can achieve is an Oscar. The 88th annual Academy Awards were certainly more subversive than in past years—but, truthfully, this is a welcome change.
Throughout the evening, there were many direct statements about social change, from Leonardo DiCaprio’s comments on the issue of climate change, Kevin Hart’s remarks on diversity, Chris Rock’s monologue about racism in Hollywood, and Lady Gaga’s performance about sexual assault.
For the second year in a row, zero black actors earned nominations in any of the four major acting categories. In host Chris Rock’s opening monologue, he spoke frankly about the blatant lack of diversity in Hollywood. In reference to the all-white nominations of the 60’s, he said, “We had real things to protest at the time… we were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.” He mentioned that the division between genders in nomination categories has no real need to exist, joking that they should add a “black category”. Towards the end of his opening comments, Rock was very frank about the racism in Hollywood, saying, “Is it burning cross racist? No… it’s a different kind of racist… Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘we like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’”
Jenny Beavan took home the Oscar for Best Costume Design for “Mad Max: Fury Road”. However, many audience members seemingly did not approve, choosing to remain seated as Beavan proceeded to the stage. Some people attributed this snobbishness to Beavan’s appearance—she rocked a leather jacket and colorful scarf, rather than the expected elaborate ball gown. It is highly unusual to remain seated while a recipient claims their award, and this is usually reserved for highly controversial honors. The last notable time this occurred was for Elia Kazan’s—director of such contentious films as “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “East of Eden”—1999 Honorary Oscar. With nine nominations and two Academy Awards to her name, Beavan is more recognized than most people seated in the audience.
Jenny Beavan has been defying the A-list dress codes for decades. At the 1987 Oscars, she she wore an outfit that closely resembles her look from the 2016 ceremony- a black coat, bowtie, and colorful scarf. Needless to say, she has been rocking her own look, regardless of people’s supposed dress codes. She sends a strong message that at the end of the day, it only matters what you think of yourself, and other people’s opinions are just that—opinions.
Fortunately, Jenny Beavan couldn’t care less, saying, “I just like feeling comfortable and as far as I’m concerned I’m really dressed up.”
With every major awards show, women are scrutinized for their entire appearance. They can show too much, or too little, choose a color too bold or have been too reserved with a more modest choice. It all feels like a petty, high school competition where someone’s appearance can never meet the arbitrary “standards” of beauty. On the other hand, most men wear the standard black tuxedo, and their fashion choices aren’t a topic of discussion for days following the ceremony. The standard for men is to be concealed by a garment except the head and hands, while women have to consider whether to bare their back, or arms, or shoulders. Women who chose to abandon the status quo—like Jenny Beavan—are scorned and shamed, and in Beavan’s case, openly disrespected by professional peers. Are appearances so important that we would not honor a person’s accomplishments because of our petty ideas about what a woman should look like?
Perhaps one of the most poignant moments of the awards show was Lady Gaga’s performance of her song “Til It Happens to You”. The song was written for the documentary “The Hunting Ground”, a film about campus rape and the ways in which it is excused and covered up. The performance ended with sexual assault survivors standing hand in hand, with messages like “never give up” and “survivor” written on their arms. Vice President Joe Biden introduced the performance, asking the audience to join him and so many others (including the President) in taking the “It’s On Us” pledge. This campaign seeks to place responsibility on the collective individual, promising to intervene in situations when consent “has not or cannot be given”. Biden calls for us all to take responsibility to change the culture, “so that no abused woman or man…ever feel they have to ask themselves ‘what did I do’? They did nothing wrong.”
While I absolutely agree with Vice President Biden’s statements, why was a powerful man’s voice needed to convince a group of people that the issue of sexual assault cannot be ignored? For many media outlets, the comments were on Biden’s message, rather than Lady Gaga’s powerful performance. Her performance was a large leap in a great direction, and I truly do believe that these are positive changes that are long overdue. However, I cannot help but notice that men are continually the face of what are largely women’s issues. While sexual assault is an issue that faces both men and women, it is hardly at an equal rate—in one year, 9 of every 10 rape victims were female. Nearly 18% of women have been victims of sexual assault, compared to 3% of men who will face similar situations. It is crucial that women’s voices are present within this continued discussion, and that we don’t let this issue be mansplained away.
Overall, the Oscars have made a step in the right direction— I mean, Leo finally got that Oscar (happy now, internet?). Along with these strides there is a recognition that we have taken but one step in a thousand-mile journey towards social justice for all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual identity, or fashion choices . It is so important that statements about social change continue to be a part of the widespread media. There is no denying that there is still so much progress to be made, and we are all an integral part of achieving social change.