Last night were the Oscars, and they were great. It represented of a small fraction of time where Hollywood utilized their platform and used it to advocate for a greater good. Patricia Arquette called on people to do something about gender and wage inequality and argued, with Meryl Streep proudly rooting: “Yes! Yes!” from the front row. Common and John Legend brought up the fact that the struggle for justice is now, and that racism is more alive now in 2015 than in the days of slavery, with the U.S. having the number one rate of incarceration in the entire world and one awkward person “wooo-ing!” in the background. Graham Moore eloquently pointed out that it is important to stay weird, and stay different, and that people who go on to create great and beautiful things that we value as a society – those people reach very low lows, and feel like they are unworthy of even living – because of how they are treated and perceived by society, because of stereotypes and bigotry. That people reach these depths of despair because of how people treat them over being who they are, over something they themselves cannot control. That people all the time contemplate taking their own lives because they don’t “fit in.”
And then there was Sean Penn. Sean Penn, who notoriously beat Madonna senseless, made a comment about the winner of the Best Picture saying “who gave this son-of-a-bitch his Green Card?” Luckily, Iñárittu had a poignant response in his acceptance speech: “I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find a and build a government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country, who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.” He so eloquently pointed out that Sean Penn’s remark is indicative of the extremely problematic attitude toward immigration in this country – the misconception that immigrants are taking opportunities that fundamentally belong to the wonderful privileged white rich men of America who got here first (well… killed everyone here and took it for themselves).
This is the problem with Hollywood. The very nature of Hollywood and politics being raised at the Oscars is problematic because it minimizes how important these issues really are, and it downplays how much power these celebrities have to change it. That fact that the majority of people’s reaction is: “Wow I’m so impressed they brought this up!” “Thank you for saying something!” As if actors are just highly paid monkeys who are paid to dance and act in front of a camera and are then responsible for no social change when they hold an immense amount of influence – this is an issue. No, they instead bring it up in a speech on one night a year and we applaud their courageousness for saying something that needed to be said, and that they could say any time; while it is commendable, it is not good enough.
All the social and political issues brought up at the Oscars tonight were very real, important, and serious issues. They are some of the pervasive issues plaguing our society today in the U.S. Immigration, gender equality and the need for equal pay, rights and respect for all LGBTQ people, rights and respect for people of color – and yet here we are in 2015 and famous people on the Oscars are still appealing to the audience to do something about these issues. There is no reason that the people of Hollywood cannot and should not have actually started waging these wars decades ago. If there is anyone who can fight these battles, it is the Meryl Streeps and Oprahs of the world. To be quite honest, it is insulting that they are so politely concerned about these issues, rather than genuinely enraged about them or compelled to take real action to fix it.
Who are the people with money, influence, and screen time? Not us, not the peasants who have useless politicians that are entirely influenced by money. No, it is the noble famous people who have nothing to do besides be famous, and enjoy the $20 million homes that the peasants enabled them to have. The least they could do, I think, is to act like they are not incapable of creating real social change, or at the very least initiating real dialogue and continuing the conversation.
I’d like if we stopped pretending like celebrities can’t do sh*t about the prevalent racism and sexism in society, because they are really the only ones who can do anything about it. Particularly since the people, “the majority,” none of them know how to call or write to their political representatives – and even if they did, that does not mean said political representative would give a sh*t or do what his or her constituents wanted. The system is broken and the only way to get anywhere is with money (Thanks Citizens United!). You are the only one with a voice in society, Hollywood. And as sad as that is, it makes it that much more important to use it for good.
You, Hollywood screenwriters, directors, actors, actresses, and all else – you dictate what we the people see, what topics that dominate the tabloids, and in a sense – what we value as a society at any given time. Rather than it be about who is wearing what, or re-making another stupid superhero movie for one millionth time, how about getting together and forming coalitions, and trying to dominate the media conversation with real topics? With real and genuine calls for change? Hollywood’s voice is merely the collective voice of all of its individual voices. It cannot be that hard to form groups of the rich and famous, to decide you will not settle for less than what we all as a society deserve, and then take on the task of ensuring that that change permeates society in actuality rather than just ideologically.
There is no bigger stage, there is no bigger platform, there is no one more powerful than these who hold the key to the kingdom in terms of access to money and publicity. Make more movies about political topics. Make more commercials bringing attention to the issues. Donate more money, speak more frequently about the issues – in every speech, in every interview, bring attention to these issues. For the women of Hollywood: refuse to be cast in movies where there aren’t strong female leads, and you know you are being paid the same as your co-stars. People are dying, people are starving, people are struggling to be equal or garner respect even as human beings – and it is a lie to say that Hollywood is not aware of this. Hollywood knows and feels bad but does nothing other than utter a war cry for justice on one night a year, then goes back to living their cowardly lives valuing the people who support their lifestyles and careers but not enough for them to push for laws that reflect as much. Like a big rich white coward, they do nothing.
I love Meryl Streep, but her sheer excitement at Patricia Arquette daring to bring up the issue of wage equality as if it was taboo – that is devastating. That Meryl Streep herself couldn’t just make it a real issue. It is something that should have been fought for years ago, and no one could accomplish it more easily than Meryl herself – the coveted, respected, and immortal Meryl Streep. For the people who make under $40,000 a year to fight for the rights of the indigent, every single day – to hear someone who makes millions of dollars applaud a call to action for equal rights – it’s nothing more than insulting. You, dear millionaire, who has nothing else to do besides act and drown in your money, could devote much more of your time, or money, or both, to these issues and yet you don’t. Maybe the small few try to make change, but no one makes waves. That is what it is truly devastating here.
To have a platform where you can enact change is a privilege. To disregard that privilege, and act as if you are only barely capable of drawing attention to an issue on one night a year on one stage is a fallacy. Hollywood needs to put its money where its mouth is. Famous people like Meryl Streep who have a voice, who have respect, who would not be laughed off-stage or out of an interview for voicing her opinion about equality, they need to step it up. These are the people we revere as a society, and they should act accordingly. These are the people who know what is wrong and what is right, and yet choose to ignore it. For every single actor or actress who has ten gay friends, and twenty black friends, and who believes that all are equal – and then does nothing to correct the injustices and discrepancies in our laws – you are a disgrace. Why do we value these people? Why are these people paid more than firefighters, and police officers, and nurses, and teachers? Why do they act as if they only have 30 seconds a year to get real about issues that affect people 24/7, 365 days a year?
If Hollywood invested even a fraction of the time, money, and effort into combatting the human rights crises of our time as they do for advertising for pathetic sequels and annoying movies, we would probably have actualized real social change decades ago. And yet they choose to do nothing rather than commit themselves, their money, their power, their time, to change any of these things for once and for all. If Jennifer Lawrence demanded to be paid the same as her male coworkers it would happen, if every female in Hollywood did it – it would happen for them. But if those same women gathered together right now and went to Congress, if they took it further and made sure that laws were passed so that they could share this equality with the rest of the U.S. rather than the already fortunate…. Then that would really be something wouldn’t it? It’s the equivalent of Jay-Z or Kanye saying, “Nah, I don’t fuck with poor black people, they are not my problem because now I’m rich. I made it.” And yet where would Jay-Z and Kanye be had Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Nah, racism and racial injustices… that’s not my problem.” To disregard that reaching these platforms means you owe a duty to help the next generation, just as someone paved the way for them… it’s downright sinful.
So no, next year I don’t want to see a political Oscars. I want that passion about social change to be carried through real and everyday life, through more than just one night in ball gowns and tuxedos and jewelry that costs as much as entire third world countries’ yearly revenues. I want it to be real. I don’t want you to talk about gender and racial discrimination between sips of champagne… I want change to happen. For the millions of people who work for non-profits and exist on nothing and wake up every single day and fight to enact the tiniest bit of change…to advocate for all of those who do not have voices, and spend their entire lives fighting for others despite barely being able to take care of themselves because of it… I want Hollywood to reevaluate what it thinks is “helping” the issues it is drawing attention to, and examine what it is they can really do if they wanted to.