You would think after all that was made (most of it justified) of the inequities of this year’s Oscar nominations that last night would have been more of the same. And to a certain extent it was. A lot of white men got up to accept awards, reflecting the Academy’s key demographic. But more than who was or was not nominated, the night was marked by people speaking out for what the causes they believe in. From Graham Moore encouraging us all to “stay weird, stay different” to Julianne Moore highlighting Alzheimer’s disease in her acceptance speech for Still Alice, from Alejandro González Iñárritu becoming the second ever Hispanic person to win the Oscar for Best Director to John Legend and Common’s stirring performance and win for their song “Glory” from Ava DuVernay’s Selma, social issues were on full display.
Two of the most poignant moments, however, came when the issue of equal rights and treatment for women were addressed. The first was the hashtag #AskHerMore which trended on Twitter before the awards began and encouraged interviewers to ask women on the red carpet more engaging questions. Anyone who’s seen even a shred of red carpet coverage has heard the question “Who are you wearing?” which is more often asked of women and subsequently supplemented by any number of inane questions. This directs the conversation towards a woman’s appearance and other trivial matters instead of what she’s passionate about or the merit of the work she did on the movie for which she’s nominated. Scandal¸ Private Practice, and Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes summed the movement up well, tweeting, “Stop asking women questions about what they wear to cover the containers they carry their brains around in. #AskHerMore.” Reese Witherspoon was also supportive, posting a photo with examples of engaging, empowering questions to ask on her Instagram.
The second encouraging moment came at the end of Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech for the Best Supporting Actress award. The actress, who won for her portrayal of a strong single mother in Boyhood, thanked the usual co-stars, directors and family members. But at the end she launched into an impassioned call for wage equality in America:
“To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
The crowd erupted into applause and the camera cut to an understandably excited Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez who cheered her on. The moment proved a highlight amongst a night of awareness for many important causes, and illustrated that issues like biblical equality in the workplace are something that everyone can get behind.
One could apply a cynical lens to all of this and say that until we see more female content creators and films centered on women, words like those of Patricia Arquette are just words and don’t represent any real change in the industry. And there’s an element of truth to that. Until more women enter the Academy, and are supported as directors and writers, and are given the central roles in plots we won’t have true (even biblical) equal representation. But in the meantime, strong women being awarded for their deserving work and using the opportunity to highlight worthy causes is certainly something to be celebrated.