The Academy Awards and The Modern Social Revolution
Sofie De Wandel
March 3, 2015
Throughout history racial inequality is a reoccurring issue. Slaves were brought over into the areas now known as Latin America, South America, and the Caribbean by conquistadors during the 1500s. Slaves during the French and Haitian Revolution struggled to understand why the ideas of the social contract theory did not apply to them. Despite the 87th Academy Awards, held on February 22, 2015, happening roughly 400 to 500 years after the first African slaves were brought over to the New World, racial inequality is still present in today’s society. Having the Oscars highlight inequality through a perceived lack of diversity in nominees, the performance of the song “Glory”, and two musicians’ Oscar acceptance speeches brings to light that society is still refusing to live up to it’s own standards set in the social contract theories of the revolutionary time period.
The opening remarks of Oscar’s host Neil Harris started off the theme of inequality. He joked, “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry, brightest.” It turns out, in all four acting award categories, not a single minority group was represented. Only one director nominated for the Director Honors of Best Picture, Alejandro G. Inarritu, wasn’t white. The director of best picture nominee “Selma”, Ava DuVernay, an African American female, was left off the director honors list. The fact that an African American was left off of the director’s honors list while whites and a Latino man made it onto the list begs the question of how the Academy of Film actually views African American directors. Such as in the casta system of colonial Spain, whites were higher up and portrayed to be able to have more privileges and obtain higher cultural knowledge than the indigenous of the Americas and the African Americans were at the very bottom of the list of ability to obtain such privileges and knowledge.
While Ava DuVernay was not able to have her name on the list of director’s honors, the movie “Selma”, which she directed, still got recognized in a unique way. Musicians John Legend and Common performed the song “Glory”. The song itself talks about not giving up the fight for equality. It touched issues from the civil rights movement and issues that have been swept under the rug by the news media; issues like the Ferguson trial. After the performance received a standing ovation, the song received the Oscar for best original song. As if the performance itself did not send out a message to the audience in the theater and everyone watching from a television screen, Common and John Legend made sure to emphasis the need for equality during their acceptance speeches. They compared how there are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. They didn’t focus solely on African American’s either. The also spoke of the song and how it was meant to also be a call for equality concerning race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and social status.
John Legend and Common’s song advocates one of the main points of the social contract theory; everyone has the right to life, liberty, and property. Bringing up the Ferguson shooting, where an African American man was reported to have been shot unarmed at night by a white male police officer, allowed for both musicians to challenge that society in a free country was preventing people of color from having life and liberty. Bringing this issue to light during the Oscars was a way to peacefully grab the attention of the news media and the audiences watching. It allowed the issue to be presented to not just minorities but to majorities of the population. The same way that the French Revolution took off by having the ideas of the social contract theory spread through the populations of both France and Haiti, the modern day social equality revolution achieved a modern parallel of that; it spread through not just to the elite of Hollywood, but to everyone watching.
Najee Ali, head of a National Action Network chapter that had scheduled a protest during the Oscars concerning the lack of diversity, made the statement “Art can change the world…” With minority directors becoming recognized in the Academy Awards and songs concerning equality being performed on a stage with thousands of people watching, that statement becomes a reality. John Legend, Common, and Alejandro Inarritu took the meaning of art changing the world and set down a corner stone for a modern day social equality revolution.