2016 has been undoubtedly one of the most controversial years that the Academy Awards have ever seen. With the build up to the ceremony dominated by racial controversy and the #OscarsSowhite campaign, poignant issues could hardly be avoided on the night and award winners used the platform to vocalise the issues closest to their hearts.
Host Chris Rock made several topical jokes about the lack of opportunity for black actors; Sam Smith dedicated his award to the LGBT+ community; Lady Gaga performed a song about sexual assault to a standing ovation and Leonardo Di Caprio used his long awaited Best Actor acceptance speech to bring the issues of climate change to the forefront of the evening. Students applying for Law, PPE, HSPS or Anthropology should consider the vital and changing role that celebrities and film makers can play in publicising causes and equality for all, and philosophy students should think about whether those in the public eye are morally obligated to take a stand on such issues.
However, one of the biggest shocks of the evening was saved until the end, with Spotlight sweeping in to take Best Picture Award despite high expectations that the Revenant would be victorious. It’s no secret that Oscars are won through campaigns before the ceremony, and some have speculated that the big push this year for Leo to win his Oscar may have detracted from the film itself when it came to the Best Picture category. Meanwhile, the Spotlight cast focused their efforts fully on reinforcing the film’s message, encouraging important people to watch it and continuing support for the child abused protests that first energised the film. Before the ceremony itself Spotlight actor Mark Ruffalo, director Tom McCarthy and writer Josh Singer joined a protest outside a Catholic Church and on winning the award, McCarthy called for Pope Francis to restore faith in the Catholic Church and ‘protect the children’.
Students applying for Law, PPE, HSPS, History or Anthropology should consider the vital role that celebrities can have in publicising important issues and Philosophy students should think about whether those in the public eye are morally obligated to use the platform they are given to affect change. English applicants should consider the changing role of film as a medium, and its parallels to literature in the way it can work with controversial topics to reach a wider audience as well as consider the question: should the messages of such films be taken into account when judging such awards as the Oscars, or should we consider the films as solely art for art’s sake?