Twitter has changed the way news is reported. The Black Lives Matter movement has been particularly successful in raising awareness for cases of police brutality that generally would have been overlooked by mainstream news channels.
Arguably the second most important aspect of Twitter is its ability to connect celebrities to their fan base. With the prevalence of these two features, it’s hardly surprising that celebrities and celebrity events have become more politicized.
This year’s Academy Awards are a prime example of this overlap between the celebrity world and political struggles that have been highlighted via Twitter. Below, I’ve included a few notable examples of Twitter flexing its muscles at the Oscars
I’m not going to dwell too much on the circumstances of the #OscarsSoWhite boycott, since Gordon and Evan have already thoroughly explained its context. However, I do want to talk a bit about how the controversy was handled by the Oscars host, Chris Rock.
Overall, I thought Rock did a great job calling out the Academy without reducing his monologue to a humourless lecture. However, in his article for Salon, Arthur Chu points out that,
Acting like caring about day-to-day violence in the streets and the impact media and culture have on that violence are somehow mutually exclusive — a common, frustrating, tired argument anyone who talks about racism in media will inevitably see dozens of times in the comments section — ignores history.
It ignores the many, many arguments that have been made about how the excuses made for the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown frequently come verbatim from untrue stereotypes out of TV and movies, how the only way Darren Wilson’s description of Brown as a “demon” who was “bulking up to get through the bullets” could possibly make sense to anyone is after a lifetime of media portrayals of the scary superhuman black man. It ignores Martin Luther King going out of his way to call Nichelle Nichols and tell her not to quit “Star Trek” because having a black woman on TV who wasn’t a domestic servant mattered. It ignores the ongoing civil rights protests around the Oscars back in the 1960s and ’70s, including Marlon Brando making history as the first and only best actor winner to boycott the ceremony, sending American Indian Movement activist Sacheen Littlefeather to accept the award in his place.
Similarly, several activists have since pointed out the one-dimensionality of calling for more black representation only to appeal to Asian-American stereotypes for a laugh.
Despite these issues, it is still encouraging to hear the problem of underrepresentation talked about on the Academy Award stage. Rock’s monologue is groundbreaking in many ways. It just doesn’t necessarily equate real change.
Luckily, there was some change happening the same night as the Academy Awards. While many of us were busy watching who would get an Oscar, several other celebrities went to Flint, Michigan to raise awareness and funds for the town affected by unsafe drinking water, using the hashtag #JusticeForFlint.
In 2014, the #YesAllWomen hashtag started a conversation about sexual assault that highlighted violence committed by a friend or loved one. At the time, the hashtag prompted outrage and the #NotAllMen hashtag in response. In contrast, Gaga’s performance this year has stirred little to no backlash, despite her song’s critique of college rape culture.
To me, the lack of backlash towards Gaga’s performance signals a cultural shift. Where only two years ago the media would have questioned the legitimacy of each survivor’s story, today their involvement in her performance only prompted more survivors to share their experiences.
In his opening monologue, Chris Rock complained that you “aren’t allowed to ask women about what they are wearing anymore.” This really misses the point of the #AskHerMore challenge. The Representation Project campaign aims to throw a wrench in a system that praises women solely for their appearance while praising men for their accomplishments. Instead of removing questions of fashion entirely, it asks for balance: ask women about their work, as well as their style.
I feel divided on the issue of #AskHerMore. Flipping through photos of red carpet gowns is one of my guilty pleasures. I’ve also come to appreciate the fashion industry as both a business and an art form, rather than merely a shallow enterprise. However, just as Chu’s explains in Salon that racial representation in film affects the way people are treated, the way women are represented in film also affects the way society views women. Actresses may care about fashion, and thoroughly enjoy dressing up for Awards shows, but that doesn’t mean they take their jobs any less seriously than their male peers. While changing the kind of questions reporters ask these women may seem like a small change, it aims to change the way we think about women as professionals.
The 88th Academy Awards reminded us, once again, that when it comes to representing anyone but white men, Hollywood still has a long way to go.
However, many of the conversations on Twitter have been slowly bleeding into the award show itself. Chris Rock’s honest appraisal of Hollywood as “sorority racist” and the slow change in the way women are represented, both on stage and on the red carpet, are minimal. However, they are all signs that the voices of activists, united on Twitter, are being heard. And to be heard must be a step in the right direction.