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Academy Awards Commentary

Julian Knight, Contributing Writer

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On a night celebrating the biggest stars of cinema, the Oscars on March 4th took an unusual step: self-reflection. Amidst the nostalgia of the ceremony’s 90th anniversary, the recent increase in sexual harassment allegations and accompanying criticism of Hollywood’s response were prevalent in discussion and speeches throughout the evening.

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel reprised his role as 2017 host, making numerous references to last year’s Best Picture momentary mixup, when La La Land was mistakenly declared winner in place of Moonlight. “This year, when you hear your name called,” he joked, “don’t get up right away!” And while Kimmel humorously noted that “Oscar’s” 90th “birthday” was cause for celebration, he soon moved on to the issue that many know has plagued the film industry—sexual harassment. “The Academy, as you are no doubt aware, took action last year to expel Harvey Weinstein from their ranks. There were a lot of great nominees, but Harvey deserved it the most.” This comment was met with applause from the audience, especially as Weinstein has proven to be the face of Hollywood’s harassment incidents.

While many are eager to criticize Weinstein and other sexual harassers, there remains a haze of uncertainty that surrounds the film community, for accusations spread quickly and are difficult to disprove once they surface. But especially amidst a movement towards exposing such habits, it has become increasingly obvious that these issues have plagued the film industry since its conception—unfortunately in the same form as they take today.

Both the 2016 #OscarsSoWhite and 2018 #MeToo controversies represent a widespread public realization that the idealized version of the American film industry is not as pure as was once believed. However to some extent, the attempts of the Academy to counter accusations of abuse and bias are overly transparent. At the 2018 Oscars, many category winners were of minority groups—a welcome first. Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro won Best Director, and his film The Shape of Water, received Best Picture. Jordan Peele’s Get Out was awarded Best Original Screenplay, and, notably, A Fantastic Woman won Best Foreign Language Film for its depiction of transgender singer facing discrimination. These wins are small victories for those advocating an increased presence of underrepresented groups in the Academy, but are they indicative of a larger change? Such inclusiveness, as welcome as it is, may be a result of public pressure as opposed to any lasting transformations of the Academy and the film industry as a whole.

Just because films and actors champion inclusivity in their victory does not mean that the 2018 Oscars are a tipping point. The Academy as well as other industry leaders have recognized the importance of a behavioral change, but whether or not these changes will be permanent cannot be inferred based on a single year of upheaval.

“Over the course of this evening, I hope you will listen to many brave and outspoken supporters of movements like ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘Never Again,’ because what they’re doing is important,” Kimmel told the audience during his opening monologue. “Things are changing for the better. They’re making sure of that. It is positive change.” And while his words are entirely true (and he acknowledges that the work is not done), we all must remember that any belief that the fight against bias and abuse has ended with the acknowledgement of the Academy would be incorrect. The events of the past year have been enlightening, both for the film industry and for the country, but the movements that grew out of these realizations only represent the beginning. We find it easy to post  “#MeToo” or “#TimesUp,” but measures must be taken to ensure that these important and relevant causes do not leave our minds, even as they leave the lists of trending hashtags.

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Academy Awards Commentary