On Sunday night, the Oscars presented a situation far more telling of American culture than it may have seemed. The accidental announcement that “La La Land” had won Best Picture enraged those concerned with the lack of media and pop culture representation of minorities.
“La La Land” was romantic, whimsical and lovely, a touching and joyful exploration of love and music, but awarding the Hollywood piece would have just confirmed how little we celebrate our diversity. Although a bit embarrassing, it was fortunate a mistake had been made, and “Moonlight,” the incredible story of a gay black youth growing up in Miami, ended up taking home the glory.
Some may argue the Oscars and other award shows are relatively insignificant events, especially next to the political turmoil capturing most of our attention. But the truth is that what we choose to honor on film is a direct reflection of what we value as a country.
Cinema can be educational and eye-opening, exposing viewers to lifestyles outside of their bubbles and transporting them into the shoes of those who have struggled different struggles. Good cinema should always educate us. “La La Land” taught me a bit about jazz. “Moonlight,” on the other hand, illuminates a completely new universe, a coming-of-age journey encompassing race, sex and compassion. Sunday night almost proved to be another case of American obsession with white, hyper-sexualized entertainment.
The fact that this disaster was narrowly avoided is a step in the right direction, but only barely. At the Grammys, Adele (white, safe) took Album of the Year over Beyoncé, whose Lemonade displayed a complete celebration of the African-American community, womanhood, sexuality, art and tradition. Of course, award shows are not our country’s greatest display of racism, but they are significant.
First, for anyone who dreams of working in cinema, for all the children who grow up wanting to act and direct and create a project big enough to screen in front of millions, the Oscars are a big deal. When minority children do not see themselves represented, they grow up learning their country does not want them represented. “Moonlight” is a story that gives hope to anyone who is a victim of racism or who is growing up in poverty, in an abusive home or in question of their sexuality. It is a story, frankly, that gives hope to anyone. These are the kinds of films that change things. These are the kinds of inspirations that unite people. Of course, there is a place for all kinds of cinema and all kinds of art.
Movies are a huge part of our culture and help us explore our humanity as well as escape our own lives for a brief time. At the end of the day, “La La Land” and all of the other nominees are masterpieces, cinematographically and romantically, in terms of music, color, exhilaration and poignancy. The content of the films recognized is not the criticism of this argument. It is not about whether “Moonlight” is the best film; what matters is that it is a film that exposes us. In awarding this story, we acknowledge those who are underrepresented in the U.S. We acknowledge those who are scared under this political administration. We recognize the LGBTQ community, the black community and the low-income community, and we are saying, “We want to see you. We want to see you on our screens, in our theaters and in our lives.” It is a small victory for acceptance and tolerance. It is a small sign that America can value its diversity.
I was inspired to write about the significance of “Moonlight” and its Oscar win when my friend and fellow student Jak Tedesco mentioned how upset he would have been if “La La Land” had taken home another award. He said, “The mixup at the Oscars was important and necessary because ‘Moonlight’ needed to win. We should be centering the narratives of people with intersecting identities.” He also brought up the Grammys as another example of minority culture being overlooked in recognitions of the arts. “Beyonce’s Lemonade was revolutionary in terms of focusing on women of color and representing those women in her visual album with natural hair, not over-sexualized but empowered.” It may seem trivial that another exceptionally talented female singer would win over the many qualified nominees, but these specific instances are not about talent. They are about giving America’s most diverse, unique, powerful people a voice, and when they speak, we are to listen, we are to appreciate and we are to understand them.
Olivia Yazzolino wants to see TV and movies that represent all of America.