Reflections on the Oscars... and Possibilities for a World Without Oppression

March 9, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |



I appreciated the Cheers for Oscar Comments posted at, and I’ve been thinking about the overall significance of how things went at that awards ceremony this year, and what that might portend for getting to a world without oppression.

One of the things the powers-that-be tell us is that the values generated and perpetrated by their dog-eat-dog system, especially “me first,” are just “human nature.” When you talk about overthrowing this system and replacing it with a whole other kind of state power that is based on the collective interests and needs of humanity, and at the same time appreciates and provides a nurturing atmosphere for individuality, they come back with that old “human nature” bullshit to tell you that’s not possible.

Not to draw too much out of one awards ceremony, but on the other hand, let’s not draw too little out if it either: there was much in this year’s Oscars that revealed the basis for another world in the content of some of the films and statements, and in the sentiments behind them.

There were remarkable films that won awards. Citizenfour is really an important documentary on both what Edward Snowden revealed about massive government spying on practically everything everyone does, and it is also a moving portrayal of a genuine hero who gave up the “good life” to risk it all to tell the world the truth about the crimes of this government. If you haven’t seen that movie, do.

It was refreshing to see people use their “90 seconds” in accepting awards to not talk about themselves or go on and on thanking “god” for their personal success. Instead, this year, there was a really interesting and inspiring range of insights, challenges, and protests from award winners.

The performance of the song “Glory” from the movie Selma by Common and John Legend, and Legend’s comments afterward, were the cutting-edge and defining moment of the night. The performance was staged with full chorus and a theatrical re-creation of the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge—the site of a brutal, bloody attack by police on civil rights marchers in 1965, a scene dramatically depicted in Selma.

Invoking Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus, and Ferguson, the song declares, “They say, ‘Stay down’ and we stand up.” And in case people missed it, I appreciated the line, “When it go down we woman and man up”—a nice fix on the old patriarchal “man up” thing.

The audience responded with a huge standing ovation.

John Legend’s reference to the late blues/jazz singer Nina Simone is itself significant. Nina Simone was a beautiful and ferociously rebellious voice of the oppressed in her music, coming out of the 1960s. Here is what Legend said: “Nina Simone said, ‘It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.’ We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now, the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more Black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you that we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on. God bless you.”

No one has taken the opportunity of a platform that reaches hundreds of millions of viewers on a globally televised awards show to speak about mass incarceration in this way, and what John Legend said connected deeply with those who saw it, moving people to tears. I think the “Ferguson moment”—by which I mean the uprising after the murder of Michael Brown, and what that set off nationwide, including sparking profound questions and anger over why do police keep killing Black people with impunity, and an atmosphere that this is no longer going to be tolerated—undoubtedly impacted why the award ceremony had this different character or this element and edge. Common and John Legend’s performance got underplayed in coverage and even controversy around the awards, so we should spread the word about it and share the YouTube.

And I think this “Ferguson moment” had something to do with why so many artists took “Nina Simone’s advice,” as Legend put it, around a number of different issues and these contradictions they were speaking to.

Julianne Moore won best actress for playing an Alzheimer’s patient, and said, “I’m so happy—I’m thrilled actually that we were able to hopefully shine a light on Alzheimer’s disease. So many people with this disease feel isolated and marginalized and one of the wonderful things about movies is it makes us feel seen and not alone. And people with Alzheimer’s deserve to be seen, so that we can find a cure.”

At a time when fascists are being whipped up in an anti-immigrant frenzy, director Alejandro González Iñárritu dedicated his best picture win for Birdman to his fellow Mexicans, and called for immigrants in the U.S. to be treated with “dignity and respect.” In the midst of a war on women, Patricia Arquette got a rousing response from women in the audience when she said, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

One moving moment was when Graham Moore, who won best screenplay for the movie Imitation Game, spoke out against how outrageous it was that the subject of the movie, Alan Turing (who was gay), was viciously persecuted for being different. Moore movingly spoke out against the persecution of people who feel like they don’t belong or fit in in society. After talking about how he himself was driven to attempt suicide as a teenager, Moore called out: “Stay weird! Stay different!”

Not everyone liked this year’s Oscars. The New York Times complained, “The audience clearly cast its vote for Clint Eastwood’s ‘American Sniper,’ a reality-based [sic!] Iraq war story that has taken in about $320 million at the domestic box office.” (See “American Sniper: Humanizing and Glorifying a Mass Murderer for the Empire“ for the real story with that movie.) Channeling Tea Party/Fox News fascist-populist criteria that anything a lot of Americans buy or like must be good art(!), the Times quoted a professor declaring, “[T]he Oscars have become, well, elitist and not in step with anything that is actually popular.” The same Times article complained that “wildly popular Joan Rivers”—best known for “jokes” humiliating women actresses for the dresses they wore and in general degrading women, Black people, LGBT people, and being a manic cheerleader for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians—didn’t get acknowledged in the “In Memoriam” part of the show.

There was also a phenomenon of snarky, supposedly liberal or alternative commentators picking on this or that possible shortcoming in some of these statements to attack them. In addition to the attacks on Patricia Arquette—which another reader responded to (see “The Breath of Fresh Air from Patricia Arquette and the Foul Stench of Reactionary Haters”), Graham Moore was attacked for basically speaking out against both persecution of gay people and persecution of people who are “weird” or “different.” As if there is something wrong with caring about both!? Moore had the courage to share how he felt growing up in a world of mean intolerance. Attacks like those on Moore are shaped by the narrow perspective of identity politics that—as Bob Avakian puts it in All Played Out—really boils down to “me!”

On the other hand, if you’re looking at the world from the perspective of how do we get rid of all oppression, then you can take responsibility to embrace, lead and, yes, divert where appropriate, all these positive sentiments in a direction that will lead to a world where all humans will flourish, not be oppressed, and there will be a full flowering of diversity and dissent in the context of humanity wrestling with how to build a better world.

My point is not that this wide range of expression of outrage, of putting others ahead of yourself, of creative expression... will, by itself, uproot the profound and deeply embedded systemic roots of intolerance and oppression, inequality and poverty, spying and repression, and wars of plunder.

Only an ACTUAL REVOLUTION can unlock the currently suppressed energy, creativity, and resources in the arts, in science, in focusing health care and research on human need and not profit... and so many more things that are so desperately needed.

That’s the point.

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