All eyes were on Chris Rock on Monday night’s 2016 Oscars Ceremony. Amidst all the controversy over racial diversity, the black comedic host was held up to a lot of high expectations for his opening monologue — and man, did he deliver. After a montage of clips from this year’s most talked about films, Rock stepped out to the stage and got right down to business. “Is Hollywood racist?” He addressed the elephant in the room head-on, but with class and humor. His analogy to Hollywood racism as “sorority racism” kept the monologue lighthearted, yet meaningful. Most importantly, it was honest: “We want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors.” And it’s true. The diversity issue is not just confined to one of the Oscars ceremony or the Academy — it is an old disease that has spread across the entire film industry.
Still, the tone of the night was maintained way past the first 15 minutes as important social topics were continuously mentioned in all aspects of the awards show. Most notably, Lady Gaga’s performance of her Oscar-nominated song “‘Til It Happens to You” was joined onstage by sexual assault survivors. The performance called attention to the ongoing problem of rape culture, which Vice President Joe Biden advocated against in his introduction for her performance.
However, spending a night trying to avoid controversy and pointing fingers at issues we’ve all already agreed on are bad does not achieve anything. It just makes our favorite celebrities seem relatable while they unhelpfully nod their heads and look sad. And it makes it painfully obvious that, once the curtain falls and the audience turns off the TV, business will continue as usual. We are so quick to laud shallow spectacle that any kind of meaningful conversation about the issues is lost. Let’s face it, the goal of the Oscars this year, as it is every year, is entertainment and great ratings — not social change. There’s only so much celebrities can accomplish by saying what has already been said a hundred times. If the Academy was hoping that the social consciousness on display Sunday night would exonerate them, they were sorely mistaken. The problems run much deeper than that.
I don’t think a night like this will happen in Hollywood again for some time. If it hadn’t been for the diversity criticism surrounding this year’s Oscars, the night would have gone very differently in terms of social awareness. And that should not be the case. This industry, so representative of art and people, can’t move backwards — the effort to move forward has to come from all the crevices of this society. Being aware of issues that only seem important because of the Oscars’ high profile is not how social change comes about. Equality is not a bandwagon we hop on and off at leisure — it’s a goal we must work towards every single day.
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