On Sunday night, the biggest names in the film industry gathered at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the 90th Annual Academy Awards. In the past, the Academy has been scorned for its choices in nominees and winners, accused of favoring white men. However, this year’s cinema had unprecedented diversity both on screen and behind the scenes. “Call Me By Your Name” set the gold standard for romance flicks and shattered heteronormative conventions, putting a steamy gay love story front and center on the big screen. “Get Out” was a blockbuster horror film with a salient message on race. But casting a shadow over the cinema industry this year was a string of sexual assault allegations, bringing to light crime and abused power in all corners of the industry at the hands of some of its most accredited figures — Harvey Weinstein being perhaps the most infamous of all. Though perhaps the Academy had no choice this year, at the risk of being burned at the proverbial stake on Twitter, the 2018 Oscars finally awarded deserving writers, actors and directors regardless of gender, race or sexuality.
With the #MeToo movement exposing the sexual exploitation women often face in Hollywood and countless other industries, the Oscars sent a much needed message of empowerment. Forty women were nominated for Oscars this year, tying the previous record, but unlike other years, traditionally male-dominated categories like cinematography, writing and directing had a remarkable share of female nominees. In her acceptance speech for best female actress, Frances McDormand stole the show. She put her award on the floor and asked every female nominee in the audience to stand. She called on male leaders in the industry to invite women into their offices — or to visit theirs — to discuss their ideas for projects. She ended her speech with two words: “inclusion rider,” referencing the growing belief that movie contracts should require racial and gender equality on set. Her message was poignant and crucial. Women will no be held down in Hollywood any longer.
“The Shape of Water” took home four Oscars, including best picture, and shattered film barriers in many respects. For one, director Guillermo del Toro is a Mexican immigrant. For del Toro, winning an Oscar is an important achievement at a time when anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States are on the rise. Jordan Peele, director and screenwriter for “Get Out,” also made history as the first black person to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The Oscars were refreshing and set an encouraging tone as the dust settles from a year that rocked the industry.
It was still not a perfect award ceremony — domestic violence allegations against Gary Oldman and unresolved sexual assault allegations against Kobe Bryant conjured backlash after he won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. But as a whole, the Oscars made strides in broadening the scope of inclusion in the film industry.
Movies can be a powerful tool, not only for artistic expression, but for social progress. Movies are a pulpit for bringing the flaws in our society to the forefront, forcing viewers to face their own biases, and for an hour or two, to immerse themselves in the lives of people who look different than themselves. This year’s Oscars were a celebration of the unique spirit of American film culture and its ability to direct the social narrative toward embracing our diverse national fabric rather than rejecting it. This Oscars was a long overdue victory for the American experiment.
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