Lights, Camera, Activism

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Award show season has arrived, and many of us will bask in the warm glow of celebrities’ fake-tanned skin as they dazzle the red carpet in their suits and gowns. With an abundance shows like the Golden Globes, the Grammys and the Oscars, there are plenty of opportunities to envy that Hollywood glamour on and off the red carpet.

This season, each of these shows are celebrating large milestones; the Grammys turned 60, the Golden Globes turned 75 and the Oscars will celebrate their 90th anniversary. Looking back throughout history, these glitzy ceremonies were created and used to acknowledge the arduous work and talent of artists. In recent years, however, award shows have become somewhat of a platform for activism.

Most recently (as of this writing), the 2018 Grammy Awards served as a platform for various social and political issues, including but not limited to gender inequality, sexual abuse, immigration rights and racism. Most notably, Kesha performed her hit song “Praying,” accompanied by various female artists — Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels and more — and the Resistance Revival Chorus. The song, a nod to her former producer that allegedly abused Kesha sexually throughout her contract, powerfully and explicitly displayed the impact of assault on survivors.

In addition to powerful performances, many Grammy guests wore white roses to honor the Time’s Up movement — a Hollywood movement to fight against sexual harassment. It was born after sexual assault allegations dominated the news cycles, accusing various male Hollywood producers and actors of sexual misconduct. The 2018 Golden Globe Awards also made sure to highlight this initiative as women were encouraged to don black dresses and buttons to support the movement. Throughout the Golden Globes, many actresses and actors used their time on stage to speak more about this issue.

In both 2015 and 2016, the Oscars were scrutinized for its inclusivity in terms of nominations and attendees. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, coined by blogger April Reign, was used to publicize the underrepresentation of people of color in its nominations. In both years, all 20 actors nominated in for lead and supporting acting categories were white.

Many people were outraged by this, especially after learning that the Oscar voters are predominately white (94 percent), male (74 percent) and averaging 63 years of age — a demographic that may not be very interested in films with people of color. In 2016, director Spike Lee chose not to attend the ceremony, along with actress Jada Pinkett-Smith who called for a boycott on the Academy Awards. Looking back on the history of the Academy Awards, only 14 black actors have won acting Oscars.

At the 2016 Oscars, a few actors and actresses used the ceremony as an opportunity to discuss political and social issues, especially with the then-upcoming presidential election. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar for Best Actor in “The Revenant,” and used his acceptance speech to discuss global warming and climate change. After his speech, The Washington Post reported that over 34.5 million had viewed it and internet traffic about the topic increased dramatically.

Also, at the 2016 Oscar ceremony, actor Andy Serkis spent his time on stage talking very specifically about the then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Serkis referred to Trump as a “megalomaniacal monster,” and went on to discuss why he should not win the presidency.

It’s safe to say that American culture is shifting closer — or attempting to — toward inclusivity, tolerance and equality. Celebrities that share these beliefs are using their public platforms to spread these messages to their millions of viewers around the globe. Award shows are still the embodiment of glamour and high fashion, but now it seems there is a deeper sense of purpose that graces the red carpet.