Oscars Wrap-Up: Hollywood a White World, but Will Smith Deserves “Best Actor”

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by Danny Stout

Thanks to host Chris Rock and other opinion leaders such as Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts, the message is loud and clear: Hollywood does not represent the rich cultural fabric of America, and as Isaacs says, “It’s time to look to the future; every individual must insist on inclusion and equality.” Humor is a powerful tool for broaching touchy subjects; Actor/comedian Kevin Hart made an excuse for not boycotting the Awards: “With my front row seat, I thought I’d be on camera every time they said ‘diversity.’ Didn’t happen.” Rock closed with the invitation: “See you at the BET Awards in a couple of months.”

Best picture went to “Spotlight,” about the The Boston Globe‘s investigative journalism team, the oldest in the nation, in fact, that uncovered child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic priests. Alejandro G. Inarritu accepted the best director award for Revenant (See our review), echoing the diversity theme: “In this industry, they don’t listen to you, they look at the color of your skin.”

     Politics has faded in and out of the The Academy Awards show for decades, but this year it was the dominant theme: Leonardo DiCapprioOscars Dicaprio spoke of climate change, “For the voices drowned out by the politics of greed.” Vice President Joseph Biden challenged: “take the pledge” to end campus sexual assault on college campuses. Lady Gaga was joined by approximately thirty survivors of abuse. In my view, our public discourse is enhanced by these voices; it’s an improvement on the excessive fandom displays this event has succumbed to. These actors hear “I love you!” a hundred times daily. They don’t need two more hours of nationally televised idolatry. If the show doesn’t focus on the films, which it doesn’t, the political commentary is preferred to obsequious shots of dresses and innocuous interviews.

     Brie Larson received a well-earned Oscar for Room, a story of a kidnapped mother and son of five that forge an unbreakable bond sustaining them after their transition to freedom. Best Supporting Actor is Mark Rylance Bridge of Bridge of Spies that paid tribute to Steven Spielberg. Alas, Sylvester Stallone the tireless worker of legendary Rocky and Rambo fame is out of his league in today’s film world.

The tribute to the passing of movie greats is always touching. It was particularly difficult to say goodbye to Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek’s Mr. Spock who not only achieved acting fame, but became an American icon.

Most disappointing is Will Smith passed up by the Academy for his role as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist that protested the excessive brain injuries in professional football, despite aggressive reaction by the National Football League (NFL). While African Americans are often depicted as entertainers and sports figures, Smith’s performance as a gifted doctor is a strong model for young people. Beyond this, his performance was riveting; Smith brought emotional and intellectual depth to the role. It compares if not exceeds the work of the other nominees. Understandably, Will Smith did not attend. With over thirty nominees, and only three of them people of color, the 88th Academy Awards will have an asterisk. Hopefully, that footnote of inequality will be erased in years to come.

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