Last night, the American film industry had its biggest night of the year, the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars. The Oscars is the ultimate awards show, in the sense that is both the last in a series of awards shows such as the Golden Globe Awards and the Director’s Guild Awards, and by far the biggest, flashiest, and most important awards show in the world of film.
This year, the Oscars have been mired in controversy, as many black actors and directors have objected to the lack of diversity in the Oscar nominations, decrying the fact that black and minority actors are underrepresented, and that virtually every Oscar nominee in every major category was a white actor, with the black actors having been completely overlooked and forgotten. The hashtag #oscarsowhite started trending online, and director Spike Lee, actress Jada Pinkett-Smith and others vowed to boycott the show.
When Chris Rock was named as the host of the Oscars telecast, significant pressure was put on him from members of this boycott, suggesting that he, as a black actor and comedian, should also boycott the show. Ultimately, Chris Rock stayed on as host and made many pointed jokes that highlighted the race issue, and dealt with it in a humorous way.
The show itself went more or less as expected, with some famous faces winning the big prizes. Mark Rylance, a British actor known across the pond as one of the finest Shakespearean actors alive, won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Bridge of Spies. This was a major upset, as the favorite was a resurgent Sylvester Stallone for the Rocky sequel, Creed. Nonetheless, Rylance took home the Oscar, and history was made.
That’s a big, big win for people like me who love classical British actors, but Rylance‘s win was nowhere near as big as that of actor Leonardo DiCaprio and director Alejandro G. Inarritu for their film, The Revenant, for which they won awards for the bold decision to showcase an early settler’s tender relationship with a misunderstood and lonely bear.
Most people would say that Leonardo DiCaprio‘s status as Hollywood’s #1 leading man was officially confirmed with this, his first Oscar win after many nominations. His acceptance speech was assured, confident, and emphatically discussed the dangers of climate change. These are all the signs of being Mr. Hollywood; winning the Best Actor Oscar, giving a suave and confident speech, and discussing earth-first political issues. Check, check, check for Leo. He covered all those bases and can truly call himself the King of the World.
Or can he?
Was Leonardo DiCaprio really the big winner at the 2016 Academy Awards? He won the top acting award, and his film won Best Director. But did his win quell the outrage about the lack of diversity in Hollywood and the white out of black and minority actors??
There were several overtures made throughout the show that were aimed at ameliorating the diversity issue, including having the head of the Academy, a black woman, come out and talk about change and about an increased representation of black and minority actors in the future.
There were many jokes from host Chris Rock about the issue, including a series of video snippets comically interjecting black actors into scenes from the nominated movies, and a controversial bit where Rock brought out three Asian children and referred to as the accountants and lawyers for the Academy.
That was not enough.
All one has to do to see the lingering racial inequality inherent in the Oscars is to look at the Oscar statuette, itself.
Just look at this thing. It’s supposed to be a golden knight holding a sword, but it looks like a castrated android. Maybe Leonardo DiCaprio might look like this if he shaves off all his hair and gets a really good tan, but which actor of color is supposed to identify with this thing? Would Idris Elba look at this thing and see his own reflection?
Then there’s the name Oscar. How much whiter can the award get than to be named Oscar? How did the name Oscar even become synonymous with the Academy Awards? Take a look at this Wikipedia page, and you’ll see that even that is in question, as there are varying theories as to where the name Oscar came from in association with this award, but nobody is really quite sure.
So if the Academy Awards are still mired in controversy about racial inequality among the nominees and Leonardo DiCaprio‘s big win didn’t somehow magically solve all those issues, then who really won last night’s Oscars?
Was it Spike Lee and the black actors boycotting the show? Was it host Chris Rock, or maybe his daughters whose Girl Scout Cookies sold for upwards of $64,000? Was it any of the individual actors or directors who won the big awards, like Mark Rylance, Alejandro G. Inarritu, or king Leonardo DiCaprio? Or was it the Academy itself?
The real answer will surprise you. It’s the only group that bridges all of the entities mentioned above, as both superlative actors who happen to be actors of color, and being the rare ones that can seamlessly cross color barriers and be considered part of any group. They are the only ones who can heal the deep divisions in Hollywood, and make the Academy Awards the truly honorable, racially inclusive show that it should be. And they kind of look like the Oscar statuettes. One of them might even be named Oscar.