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No, the activism at the Oscars wasn't perfect

Mar. 6, 2018
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Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani standing together at the Oscars made me want to see another Nanjiani rom-com (like Issa Rae and Riz Ahmed last year at the Emmys). But besides the fact, their speech introducing production design nominees shook the nation. The duo referenced Dreamers, a term often used to describe undocumented people who came to the U.S. at a young age. On Monday, March 5th, the day after the Oscars, the original DACA deadline passed with inaction from the US government. Thanks to the Supreme Court on February 26th, DACA continued past the deadline with a federal court ruling expected in June. Following the court timeline, a final decision on DACA may not come till early winter of this year. Nyong’o, an immigrant from Kenya, and Nanjiani, originally from Pakistan, touched on how immigrant and non-European countries are left out of the Hollywood conversation. Most importantly, they reminded us that “dreams are the foundation of America.” The statements were not that political; neither came out in full support saying the words “DACA,” but their speech is a beacon call to how immigrants are a fundamental part of America. 

While Nyong’o and Nanjiani were introducing an Academy Award, Frances McDormand won Best Actress for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. McDormand asked “all the female nominees in every category [to] stand with me in this room tonight, the actors . . . the filmmakers, the producers, the directors, the writers, the cinematographers, the composers, the songwriters, the designers.” It was a visually stunning picture as women stood around the theater and McDormand put her Oscar aside on the floor. These are the women who make the movies happen, from both sides of the camera. As Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph pointed out in their speech, there are “so many more white people” backstage, pointing to a gender and racial problem behind the scenes. A solution to the lack of diversity was presented at the end of McDormand’s speech: “inclusion rider.” An inclusion rider, conceived by Kalpana Kotagal and Stacy Smith at the University of Southern California in 2017, is a part of a contract stipulating equitable hiring throughout a movie to help hire more marginalized people. McDormand also made a point to call out people to finance projects made by women—not only to talk to them at after-parties but to go to their professional offices. To create equity in Hollywood, active investment and money must be spent to finance projects made and led by women.

McDormand blazed a trail regarding the state of women in Hollywood, a trail that could’ve been made ashes by the women speaking on behalf of the Time’s Up organization. Three women who lead the Time’s Up movement, Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek, and Annabella Sciorra, had a heartwarming speech about the new voices driving Time’s Up. They brought up race and ethnicity while hitting buzzwords like intersectionality and diversity followed by a feel-good montage. Making a political statement demanding an overhaul of the system and contractual obligations to include more diverse people would have been the right thing to do. Hollywood is past the representation conversation; they must start to work concretely to hold those in power accountable.

The impromptu passion of McDormand will go down in history just as Nyong’o’s did in her 2014 acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress. Nanjiani and Nyong’o spoke with cadence that reflects the thousands of lives at stake, but the lackluster emotion of Judd, Hayek, and Sciorra speaks to how activism at the Oscars must have a firebrand quality to it.