“So, I’m hyperventilating a little bit. If I fall over, pick me up…” began a shaky Frances McDormand, accepting her Oscar. “Because I’ve got some things to say,” her voice suddenly rock solid as she sat the little gold man on the floor.
And did she ever. Stopping just shy of demanding, she invited all the other female nominees that evening to stand with her, prompting a sea of women to raise out of the crowd like islands, followed by crashing waves of deafening applause. She acknowledged them, and the stories they have to tell.
But she didn’t stop at inspiration, as many do. She didn’t tell them they are talented and their stories are worth telling, they know that. She didn’t tell them they are just as good as their male counterparts. They know that too. She demanded action, not recognition.
She said their stories need funding. She told would-be investors and backers not to talk to them about it at the after-parties, but to contact them for meetings. Encouraging women, and other marginalized groups, to go out there and make movies does very little in a vacuum. They have the talent, they have the drive, they have the passion – they need the money.
She left the audience in the theatre with a message meant directly for the people filling the seats in the room. Two words: Inclusion Rider. An inclusion rider is a clause added to an actor’s contract that states that the film must meet a certain level of diversity amongst its cast and crew for the actor to remain involved with the project. Make no mistake, these were fighting words.
These words were meant to hold accountable each of her fellow actors, regardless of gender, race, religion, or orientation, for ensuring diversity in the film world. Successful actors hold the power to invite others to the table, and Frances wants them to know they also have the responsibility to. Frances came to play.
Frances was not the only one to bring politics and social issues to the show. Rapper Common and singer Andra Day wowed with a performance of their song “Stand for Something.” Standing stoically on the stage during the performance were activists, including Patrisse Cullors from Black Lives Matter, Cecile Richards from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Alice Brown Otter of Standing Rock Youth Council, and eight-year-old author and Syrian refugee Bana Al-Abed. Their mere presence exuded strength that could be felt through the screen.
Common gave a free-style prelude, admonishing the president and the NRA, and giving support to the people of Parkland, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, among others. As the song concluded, and the camera panned back preparing to head to commercial, #MeToo originator Tarana Burke extended a hand towards Bana Al-Abed. The little girl extended hers in return, and the two powerhouses stood in silent embrace.
Some moments were lighter, but still biting. Emma Stone called out the lack of recognition for female directors in Hollywood, stating, “These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year.” Host Jimmy Kimmel let go a few zingers himself.
I will admit, I used to be annoyed when politics snuck into awards shows. I can remember Susan Sarandon using her acceptance speech to call out an injustice unrelated to the movie, and thinking, “This isn’t why we’re here, Susan.” Celebrities using their moment in the spotlight to call attention to a cause is nothing new; but admittedly, it has grown in recent years. It is expected now, woven into the fabric of Hollywood’s velvet curtains. And unlike in my younger years, I welcome it.
Like it or not, we listen to celebrities. They aren’t experts, and sometimes they give terrible advice (looking at you, Jim Carrey and Gwyneth Paltrow,) but they do have a soapbox. Even if we don’t always agree with what they say, we do hear it.
The sheer volume of their audience makes celebrities good tools to fight oppression. Harassment, discrimination, and inequality happen everywhere, but the bullhorn held by Hollywood stars is hard to ignore.
When Leonardo DiCaprio used his Oscar speech to highlight the perils of climate change, we applauded instead of eye-rolled. These are things we need to hear. And what is it replacing, really, listening to them thank people we don’t know? Go ahead, Leo, you waited long enough for this moment, talk about the planet instead of Aunt Lucille all you want to.
Instead of being irritated by celebrities hijacking these shows to preach about social injustice, I am grateful to them for using their power and privilege to better the world. Keep shouting, Hollywood. We’re listening, and we are glad you have our backs.