February 23, 2015

Race at the 2015 Oscars

In Their Moment of ‘Glory,’ Common and John Legend Showed the World Why the Selma Struggle Truly Is ‘Now’

With their electrifying acceptance speeches at Sunday’s Oscars, Common and John Legend affirmed the connection between the civil rights struggle portrayed in Selma and the fight for justice that continues today.

By Peniel E. Joseph
Despite being nominated in only two categories, Selma stole the Oscars Sunday night by virtue of a best original song victory that was preceded by an electrifying performance of the song, “Glory,” by John Legend and Common.

The musical performance added heart and soul to what was an otherwise pedestrian Academy Awards telecast. Accompanied by dozens of backup singers doubling as marchers and a set re-creating Selma, Ala.’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, along with portraits of both the real-life civil-rights-era demonstrations and their cinematic counterparts, Legend and Common shut down the Academy Awards. The audience of Hollywood heavyweights, including Oprah Winfrey and an emotional David Oyelowo—the actor who played Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma—was in tears.

But the triumph wasn’t over. A few minutes later, Legend and Common bounded up the steps to the stage, after being awarded the Oscar for best original song, where both artists eloquently dedicated their victory to America’s ongoing struggle for civil rights and racial justice. Legend kicked things off by recalling their recent performance at the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday demonstrations that culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
How Common and John Legend’s performance of “Glory” fired up Oscar night’s idling empathy machine

The stifled ceremony came alive when "Glory" stirred something frustrated, something human inside the stars

By Sonia Saraiya
It was Streep’s reaction to Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech that first signaled to me something different about the night; until then, it had plodded along desperately, with Neil Patrick Harris doing a lukewarm job holding together a show that was bored with itself before it even began. It’s not uncommon for winners to get political in their acceptance speeches, as Arquette did, calling for equality for women. It is uncommon for well-heeled members of the audience—including front-row, A-list guests Streep and Jennifer Lopez, to her left—to respond with anything other than mild embarrassment. The Oscars, like much of Hollywood, are typically the Blasé Olympics: Losers smile and clap through their disappointment, awkwardly long speeches are played off with soothing orchestral music, and even the most liberal firebrands are expected to put on a nice dress and/or a suit and sit quietly throughout the proceedings. But here was Streep, leaning so far forward in her chair she might have been at church, and stabbing emphatically at the air in support of Arquette’s speech. Next to her, Lopez looked flabbergasted, but in a good way. And this, on a night where the entertainment was dull, the winners predictable, and the first true victory of the night went to a charming Polish man totally uninterested in heeding the playing-off music. It was, as far as the Oscars go, a powder keg waiting to blow.

The performance of “Glory” was the spark. Best original song is a category that invites spectacle, typically in the guise of artists from vastly different genres coming to the same stage and breaking the Oscar host’s rhythm with 90 seconds of a song. By now, though, Legend and Common have gotten very good at their stage game—they performed at the Grammys, too, earlier this month—and after rather minimalist performances from Adam Levine, Rita Ora and Tim McGraw, Legend and Common performed with dozens of extras on a reproduction of the Edmund Pettus bridge. The extras came down the steps of the stage to the carpet, and for a moment it seemed like they might storm the aisles, singing “glory, glory” and marching for freedom. They didn’t. But unexpectedly, the audience rose to their feet en masse, and this after the standing ovation for J.K. Simmons came in fits and starts.

Standing ovations aren’t exactly rare at the Oscars—though they are rare for a category as marginal as Best Original Song. But the fervor of it was unlike anything I’ve seen before—at least, as it was picked out by the producers of the show. David Oyelowo, the star of “Selma,” was openly sobbing in his seat (directly in front of Oprah). Actor Chris Pine, seated elsewhere, had tears streaming down his face. Presenter Jessica Chastain was visibly moved. Immediately after the performance, “Glory” won best song, and the entire audience stood up again. Was it motivated by guilt, or by an especially good performance of the song, or something else entirely? I don’t know, but once the artists finished their (very moving) speech, the audience stood up and applauded, again. (Pine was one of the first to spring to his feet.)

It wasn't just Common and Legend. Everyone at the ceremony was aware of Hollywood's racial issues from the beginning. If they weren't, host Neil Patrick Harris made them aware.

Neil Patrick Harris's jokes on whiteness of Oscars unsettle some viewers

By Alan YuhasA string of jokes about diversity at the Academy Awards and controversial nominee American Sniper made Neil Patrick Harris’s first year hosting the Oscars a controversial one–even before the ceremony reached its halfway mark.

Harris began with a self-conscious joke that quickly won praise from critics and viewers for taking on the lack of diversity in the Academy head-on, saying: “Tonight we celebrate Hollywood’s best and whitest, sorry … brightest.”

But several subsequent jokes directed at black actors in the audience, including Oprah Winfrey, Octavia Spencer and David Oyelowo, fell flat and changed the tenor of the ceremony.
And:The conclusion of many was that Harris’ approach to diversity and controversy, while perhaps laudable for the attempt alone, didn’t work. Grantland’s Rembert Browne took issue with the Oscars organizers at large, tweeting an imaginary thought-bubble of its organizers: “If we sit Kevin Hart close enough, it will totally make up for the Selma thing.”

Writer Julieanne Smolinski similarly felt that Harris and the writers were verging on desperate for approval from minorities whom had been largely excluded from the ceremony, tweeting: “‘I have black friends!’–the Oscars”.
Conservatives = racists

Meanwhile, conservative sniped in their usual illogical ways:

Sean Hannity and others are freaking out about “American Sniper’s” Oscar loss

It was a "predictable" outrage by "liberal" Hollywood that American Sniper and Selma both won only one Oscar?

Yeah, Hollywood really showed its bias by honoring the apolitical Birdman and Grand Hotel Budapest rather than black rights (Selma), gay rights (Imitation Game), or nerd rights (Theory of Everything).

No, really...Hollywood is biased toward the apolitical. According to the studios, racism is always about one person, usually an athlete, breaking down barriers. It's never about centuries of white male Christian supremacy.

Then there was this racist reaction:

Fox 8's Kristi Capel Dropped "Jigaboo" On Air This Morning

It's okay...she says she didn't even know it was a word. She often utters random syllables. You can't blame her if they accidentally form a racial slur.

For more on the subject, see Hollywood Still White in 2015 and Another White Year at the Oscars.

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