Home / Opinion / What Filmfare can learn from the Oscars

Naysayers be damned, I thought there was much to love about Oscars 2016, despite the #OscarsSoWhite, which has been trending for a while now. After all, who would have thought that the Oscars would do for print and investigative journalism what no journalism school or editor has managed to do in ages? I frankly wouldn’t be surprised if newspapers saw an increase in job applications and subscriptions after Monday evening. And that’s just one of the good things to come out of Oscars 2016.

From racism to climate change to LGBT rights to honour killings to sexual abuse of college students on and off campus, the Oscars had a commentary on them all. Not one person wasted the opportunity to stand for what they believed in. Yes, there were the beautiful people, the celebration of cinema, acting and fabulous performances by Lady Gaga, Sam Smith and Weeknd (Yes, that’s his name. No, spelling is not his strong suit).

What I loved most about the Oscars, though, were the speeches. Each one was better and more pertinent than the next. Starting with Chris Rock’s monologue addressing #OscarsSoWhite head-on in his opening speech. You can watch his entire monologue here, but for me the best parts were when he asked why there were “no protests before", say in the 1950s or ’60s or even ’70s. “Because black people had more important things to protest. They were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematographer. When your grandmother is swinging from a tree, it’s really difficult to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short."

Not that he didn’t make a political statement about racial discrimination in the US. One of his standout lines was when he said that in this year’s “In Memoriam section there’ll be just black people who were shot by the cops on the way to the movies".

He wasn’t the only one making a point, and that’s what made the Oscars worth watching. Almost each person who walked on to the stage to accept an award made a comment on an issue important to them. The costume designer for Mad Max, Jenny Beavyn, said, “Actually it could be horribly prophetic—Mad Max. If we don’t stop polluting our atmosphere. You know it could happen."

When Tom Carthy and Josh Singer walked on to pick up the award for Best Screenplay for Spotlight, they made the first of many statements on journalism. “We made this film for all the journalists who have and continue to make the powerful accountable and for the survivors whose courage and will to overcome has been the inspiration. We have to make sure this never happens again."

When Spotlight won for Best Film, producer Michael Sugar said, “This film gave a voice to survivors, and this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican. Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith."

Producer Blye Pagon Faust thanked the actual reporters from The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team and said, “We would not be here today without our reporters. Not only do they effect global change, but they absolutely show us the necessity for investigative journalism."

To stand on the Oscar stage and make a statement against the Vatican, now that takes real guts and underlines what freedom of speech really is. It’s tantamount to criticising Hinduism in India, for example, saying you pray to Mahishasura and not Durga. Hell will have no fury worse than our Hindu political parties scorned.

It wasn’t just the Spotlight team. When The Big Short won for Best Adapted Screenplay, Adam McKay finished his speech by saying, “If you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for candidates who take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires."

Pakistani journalist and film maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy spoke about honour killing when she accepted the Best Documentary Short for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.

US vice-president Joe Biden, who entered to a standing ovation, spoke for youngsters who have been subjected to non-consensual sex on and off campuses, and asked people to pledge that they’d intervene and help if they became aware of such incidents. And he introduced Lady Gaga’s guttural performance of Till It Happens To You from The Hunting Ground, which ended with young victims of sexual abuse standing next to her.

Practically every moment of the Oscars this year made a point.

Sam Smith said he dedicated his award for Best Song to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community all over the world. And that he stood there as a proud gay man and hoped one day they could all stand together as equals. And just when you thought oh-this-is-all-so-serious, Sacha Baron Cohen did his bit for diversity by asking, “How come there’s no Oscar for them hardworking little yellow people with tiny dongs? You know, the minions."

Between all the hosts and Chris Rock, there was enough political incorrectness and humour to make the awards ceremony anything but maudlin.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won Best Director for The Revenant, ended his acceptance speech with, “I am very lucky to be here tonight, but unfortunately, many others haven’t had the same luck. There is a line in the film that Glass says to his mixed-race son, ‘They don’t listen to you, they just see the colour of your skin.’ So what a great opportunity to our generation to really liberate ourselves from all prejudice and, you know, this tribal thinking, and make sure for once and forever that the colour of the skin become as irrelevant as the length of our hair."

Leonardo DiCaprio spoke on climate change in a perfectly delivered speech. “Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship with the natural world. A world that we collectively felt in 2015 was the hottest year in recorded history. Our production team needed to go to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow; climate change is real, and it’s happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters or the big corporations, but who speak for all of humanity. And for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people who will be most affected by this, for our children’s children, and for all the people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted."

Spike Lee commented on how it’s “easier to be the president of the US as a black person, than to be the head of a studio". And, of course, there was Chris Rock’s parting shot, “Thank you and #BlackLivesMatter."

This is exactly what wins me over to the glimmering slightly speckled side of America. That their celebrities don’t take their own celebrity status lightly. They realize the influence they wield. That when you’re given a platform and have working grey cells which haven’t been totally deadened by drug and alcohol use, you grab the moment and stand up and voice your opinion on whatever issue is dear to you—be it the state of the nation, social disparity, gender disparity or exploitation by big companies and banks. But you must speak up. Make a difference. And if you can, do it with as much humour and candour as possible.

And yes, I keep getting impressed by all these celebrities taking a stand and voicing their opinion, because in India our actors can’t seem to make any statement—about social issues or political ones. Forget a spine, what would it take for them to just grow an opinion? Maybe now that Priyanka Chopra has seen the light on the other side, she can come back as our messiah to Indian celebrities and help them on their path to enlightenment and responsibility. Who knows, maybe at the next Filmfare Awards, Sanjay Dutt will speak up for doing our bit for the environment, by showing us how to make your own paper bags.

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