by Nadiah Mohajir
The Academy Awards, to me, are like Superbowl Sunday: they are never missed and usually watched with the company of a number of friends. In the past, the “pregame show” – the red carpet – has been watched much more meticulously than the actual show itself – hearing the interviews, seeing the dresses, and who the movie stars are interacting with has always been a guilty pleasure of mine.
Something happened at this year’s Academy Awards – similar to this year’s Superbowl with Beyonce’s Formation, and Grammy’s with Kendrick Lamar’s powerful performance – that deemed it different from the past years, that made the pretty dresses and celebrity gossip no longer the forefront of the discussion between my friends and I: the undeniable activism raising awareness on important social justice issues such as race, sexism, and sexual violence. Not only were these complex and nuanced issues being discussed before the Oscars by many activists and critics, these issues were openly addressed on stage at one of Hollywood’s largest events.
From the obvious longstanding #oscarssowhite discussion to the red carpet journalists being challenged to talk to actresses about more than just who they were wearing, to some really powerful demonstrations honoring the resilience and courage of gendered-based violence, I am still thinking about this year’s academy awards.
One issue, in addition to race, that was given much attention was that of gender based and sexual violence. Vice President Biden’s urging the audience to join him and the White House to end sexual violence through the It’s On Us campaign, Lady Gaga’s emotional performance with fifty survivors, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s win for a film on honor killings, and Spotlight’s win for best picture represent a powerful shift in our culture despite how ingrained and systemic sexual violence and gender based violence is: it is no longer acceptable to remain silent on injustices like sexual assault and honor killings. These “wins” at the Oscars were two reminders for me: first, that there are multiple avenues to raising awareness and art, film, and music are powerful tools to do so. Second, while on the surface, it is natural to weighed down by the heavy, tragic issue of sexual assault and honor killings, these are stories of courage, resilience, and survival.
And so today, I am hopeful. While working to raise awareness on difficult topics such as sexual violence is often disheartening, and sometimes feels like progress is moving at a snail’s pace, I am also consistently moved by the courage and resilience of those who refuse to remain silent – both of the survivors themselves, and the many others who work to support them – from their advocates, to the artists that tell their stories, to our very own Vice President. I am hopeful by the realization that we are entering a new era of activism, one that brings together technology, art, and everyday people, one that permeates our most beloved American past times – from the Super Bowl to the Grammys to the Oscars – and one that challenges the masses to stand up against the many injustices in the world.