Beyond #selfie-hood: Social Issues Dominate the Oscars

When Buzzfeed asked Kevin Spacey about his ‘mani-pedi’ he looked at the reporter with “are you crazy” eyes. What the video did was further a discussion that has been raging throughout this year’s Oscar ramp-up: inequity for women in Hollywood. This and other social justice issues took center stage at this year’s Oscars. With slavery and racism at the core of the Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress awards for “12 Years a Slave”; AIDs activism in the best Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor wins for “Dallas Buyer’s Club”; viral stories and dialogues traversed the web this awards season targetting the beauty industry (Cate Blanchett’s response to the press at the SAG awards, Lupita Nyong’o on beauty and race) and gender injustice (Cate Blanchett’s acceptance speech).

Though plenty of buzz surrounded the Ellen DeGeneres shutdown Twitter with a record-breaking group celebrity #selfie, which at 3.3 million, broke all Retweeting records, many deeper issues managed to emerge as well.

The previous record, at 771,000+ RTs, had been set by President Obama for this photograph:
Screenshot 2014-03-06 12.28.29

The Oscar #selfie tweet was instantly parodied on The Simpsons:

Beyond party laughs, Lupita Nyong’o’s moving speech about beauty and blackness has been embedded and quoted across the Interwebs. In addition to the power of her searing performance as Patsy, the abused slave heroine who maintains her dignity and bravery against all odds in “12 Years a Slave,” at every stage of the Oscar season, Nyong’o rose up as an icon of elegance, and eloquence.


What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul.

And, in her Oscar acceptance speech, Lupita Nyong’o refocuses the glamor of the moment to the underlying importance of the character she portrayed:

It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s…

For her part, Cate Blanchett, who inspired a “Do you do that to the guys?” GIF meme at the red carpet for the SAG awards,

continued to address the issues of entrenched gender injustice in the Hollywood business model in her own Best Actress acceptance speech at the Oscars, addressing those executives:

…in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money.

And while Jared Leto’s performance in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” has sparked some backlash in the transgender community, his speech managed to touch on the global crises in Venezuela, Ukraine, as well as those who have died from the AIDS pandemic:

To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight in places like Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to to say we are here, and as you struggle to make your dreams happen and live the impossible, we are thinking of you tonight.[…]

This is for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS. And to those of you who have ever felt injustice because of who you are and who you love, I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.

A number of activist celebrities were key players in this years Oscars ceremonies. Brad Pitt, a key producer of “12 Years a Slave, introduced Bono, nominated for the song “Ordinary Love” which he penned for the bio-pic about legendary anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela, “Long Walk to Freedom,” while Angelina Jolie received an honorary Oscar for her global humanitarian efforts.

What are your thoughts about this year’s Oscars? Do you think these social cause celebrities are having an impact? Do you think the issues raised by the high profile of these social issue narrative winners will have a ripple effect on the culture at large? Has the role of celebrities shifted to that of superhero(ine)s for the greater good?

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  1. Evyenia Constantine

    I must say, I really enjoyed watching the Academy Awards this year. I was really touched by Jared Leto’s speech in particular. I have been watching the entire awards season, and have watched him slowly go from joking around during his acceptance, to really using his time wisely and having something inspiring to say. In fact, this was the first year in many where I don’t remember actors heaping praise on their agent, manager, or team during their speeches. I saw a huge rise in wanting to say something more, something that would have an impact, something relevant. Lupita Nyong’o had a very powerful and beautiful message about compassion, and not relying on your outward appearance to sustain you. Her speech was very moving. She understands that she has a responsibility to lift up young girls who are looking to her as a standard of beauty. She is doing something of value with her time in the spotlight, which makes me an even bigger fan of hers than I already was.

  2. Emily Spierer

    First of all, I absolutely loved the Academy Awards this year. I think that a lot of the show’s success had to do with the fact that Ellen DeGeneres hosted the event. As I’ve expressed in my previous posts, I am a huge fan of Ellen DeGeneres and think she is absolutely hilarious (in addition to being a very kind and giving individual). She did a wonderful job of hosting the Oscars and made sure to keep the audience – as well as viewers -engaged and interested in the show. In addition, while many people know that Ellen ordered pizza for the audience, (and more specifically for the first few rows of guests, therefore the “most important people in the room”) many people do not know that the pizza delivery guy was in fact, a real pizza delivery guy, who was given a $1,0000 tip at the end of the night – courtesy of Ellen Degeneres.

    In reference to the other stars who addressed various issues throughout the world, I think this show did a wonderful job of shedding light upon the less fortunate people who are struggling with numerous issues throughout the world – which has been amplified by the media and Hollywood in general. From 12 Years a Slave to Dallas Buyers Club, I really respect the social and political importance and influence of the films that were nominated for Oscars this year. Overall I really loved the Academy Awards this year and respect the incorporation of historical and political films that have raised awareness about important issues within our history, and which still persist today.

  3. Kristin Ferrandino

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t here this past Sunday to watch the Academy Awards (which I was super bummed out about being a great fan of Ellen’s.) That being said, I cannot have much commentary on the show itself, but from the clips I have seen it seemed pretty nice.
    While I personally remain unaffected by celebrity endorsements and interests, it is very interesting to see how much of a pull they have on our American society as a whole. I have seen posts and pages specifically dedicated to Dallas Buyer’s Club thanking the team and crew for raising awareness about AIDS, something they were not so educated about beforehand. I think we have seen much of this before of course — Lady GaGa’s uber-involvement in the gay rights movement and Angelina Jolie’s humanitarian efforts are some of the first to come to mind. The amount of press I have seen regarding the winners and their speeches has been astounding — I feel as if I didn’t even need to watch the actual ceremony. The speeches were poignant and almost every held a near and dear point to broadcast across the nation — and the country heard it loud and clear. While the civil and human rights meets celebrity movement may not be one I can relate to having personal effects to myself, I believe it is only doing good and no harm to modern society, so why not keep it going?

  4. Deisy

    I’ve always enjoyed watching The Academy Awards but I enjoyed this year’s the most. I think this is because the movies that were nominated had a bigger propose than to just entertain. I think the winners did a great job at acknowledging the “stories” they were winning the awards for. Like Lupita and Jared who’s movies were dealing with social issues. They could’ve easily said thanks and forgotten to mention the issues, but they didn’t they knew this was a great opportunity to shine light to these issues and address them.

    When I watched Kevin’s interview with Buzzfeed I couldn’t stop laughing. His reactions to the questions were hysterical and he was so confused by them. Yet if any female was asked the same questions they would be expected to answer them normally. I think they should keep doing these interviews until other media outlets realize how ridiculous they are.

  5. SeungMi Kim

    I heard that this year’s Oscar was watched by 43 million Americans, the biggest audience in the decades. I really enjoyed watching this year’s Oscar and thought that many hilarious elements were found from it. Those famous celebrities gathering and taking the selfie in the awards were completely joyful and great in a way that they all seem to interact with one another as well as their fans who right away retweeted the photo after Ellen uploaded. I recently see that some of my friends in my country, Korea, are also into this selfie by posting it as well as its parodied photographs sometimes, and I could see how powerful just a picture of those world-renowned celebrities is to the world.
    I was completely touched by Lupita Nyongo’s award speech when she won the best actress award. As mentioned above in the article, by starting with saying that “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s..”, I could feel how much she concerns about and cheers for those who suffer from any sorts of issues around the globe. As an African American celebrity, by mentioning this statement to the public, I believe audiences can feel something, look back at themselves, and see the world in a different perspective for a better society. The film in which she portrayed as a slave, “12 Years a Slave”, also won the best picture award, and I felt that this sort of film that depicts problematic social/historical issues deserves to win the award and as it does, it can teach an essential lesson that we all need to recognize and impact on the public.
    As I’ve mentioned in my book review #1, I have always been aware of racial issues existing in the United States, and the ways that those African American celebrities prove to be beautiful and mean to cheer for those who had been or are in pain are very meaningful and touching. I believe they are taking a strong step to greatly impact on society.

  6. Lia Ferguson

    As I watched the Oscar’s, I must say, as cheesy as it sounds, I cried to see how far “WE” as a nation have come. I normally see color first, in everything! I represent two minorities. I represent a race of people that have fought years and years to be recognize, not just their skin color but the content of their character. I also represent women. I represent gender equality, and the Sunday, 42 Million people witness a phenomenal woman rock the stage in her own way. She made everyone feel special, and comfortable. Her humor was not offensive, and she brought her personality not just to the stage, but to the audience. With this being said, the selfie was for me, a moment captured that all of us can be proud of. I did not see color, or gender or famous designer, but I saw smiles. I saw a purity that I’ve never witnessed before. There was a point in time where blacks were only allowed to entertain. There was a point in time, when women in film was only an idea. Sunday night, we witnessed a dream that has finally become tangible. I am so grateful to have been born in this generation. I have witnessed so much, and I look forward to what is up next.

    • Evyenia Constantine

      Lia, I agree. Apart from one joke, (poor Liza Minelli!) I found Ellen to be entertaining, hospitable, hilarious and generous. She didn’t shame anyone, she didn’t call anyone out. She was laughing with people, not at people. This is a far cry away from last year’s offensive and downright degrading “we saw your boobs” song from host Seth Mcfarlane, directed towards the women in attendance. That skit disgusted me, and I feel shamed the Academy. Ellen lights up the room, in the right way.

  7. Amanda Boyd

    This was one of the first years I wasn’t able to watch the Academy Awards, which was a shame as I always love checking them out, though I have watched clips of the speeches, interviews and whatnot so I can’t really comment on the show as a whole.

    That being said, I think Ellen did a great job. She came across as fun, entertaining, and generous; she’s at ease and that ease is infectious. I thought the pizza delivery was brilliant, the selfies (#oscars #blessed) was perfectly apt (though clearly a PR stunt from Samsung) and her jokes were (overall) all in good fun. And I loved Pharrell’s “Happy” performance. He’s the epitome of cool (and clearly some sort of magician because he has not aged in twenty years).

    As for the social causes, I think it’s wonderful that they are brought more to light, but will they have a ripple effect? That’s hard to tell. Maybe they will, but Hollywood has always been telling stories, so these things aren’t exactly new (“The Pianist”, “Philadelphia”, “The Color Purple” to name a few).

  8. Ben Ruhland

    I found this year’s Oscars more psychoanalytical than any before. I thought that it touched on both psychological and social economical issues like no other year has. Ellen’s speech on why film industry people become what they are as well as all else mentioned above are key examples. I think that celebrities that exemplify social causes do have an impact, although it can feel tacked on at times, I thought that this year more than before there were messages that are impossible to argue. From Racial injustice to the Aids Pandemic and to Gender issues, it was all beautifully handled. Regarding a “ripple effect,” I do not know if this will happen. If we look at 12 Years a Slave and how the US government will be offering it to view in public schools, this is clear that there is a greater intention for social change and awareness.

  9. Paloma Urquijo Zobel

    I think it has become a norm for celebrities to use their voices to bring awareness to causes that are close to their hearts. I agree with the above comments that these Oscars seemed to touch on a lot of social and economic issues which seems right when there is so much suffering going on in the world yet such an event like the oscars still takes place. It would almost feel unnatural to almost not address some of the issues when such a wide diverse audience would be watching.

    Good article about selfie takers….Its an interactive map and ranks countries by most selfie takers.

  10. Kathleen Sweeney

    The Selfie Map is fascinating….what an interesting piece of data to explore…I did know that the Philippines has the most per capita use of social media in the world, so their #1 ranking on selfies makes sense…but it’s not in the capital city of Manila! #2 is New York, which makes sense as a tourist destination, with key architecture a part of the shots, no doubt…and then Anaheim, CA…hello Disneyland!

  11. Yoon Hee Song

    I did not watch this year’s Oscar but I have seen this selfie that Ellen uploaded in Twitter. likewise, their impact to the society is really great. having 3.3million people to retweet this photo, it means that society is keeping up with these celebrities. when Nyong’o made her speech about beauty and blackness she was shedding tears. As an African American, it might have been hard for her to succeed as a celebrity and such an effort made her stand in the Academy Award and inspire many other people. I think that handling social issues like slavery, AIDs, racism, and sexism in the movie will have greater impact to the society and raise awareness by touching their emotions.

  12. Jae Chan Pyo

    Every year I enjoy watching the beautiful dresses and accessories that the celebrities wear to Oscar. However, as I am getting old and looking at the show with more thoughts and awareness of the world, I can see how the celebrities have the power to speak their words, bringing difference to the world. Like the clutches and the jewelry that gets sold out after a celebrity wearing it to the show, the speeches that the celebrities bring gives a big impact to the modern society. For example, the Oscar winning movie which was the “12 Years of Slavery” was a very good case to bring the racism up to surface again, showing well how the racism should disappear in this world. How the show that just looked like it was just meant to be a party with millions of dollars spent on alters into a place of opportunity to bring up the current issues and try to solve them is very interesting.

  13. Juyeon Jung

    Literally, Oscars rocked this year. To be honest, I had not seen the Oscars thinking that it is not my thing but only for Americans or those who love Oscars. I must say I have changed my mind and I am now little bit regretting why I never watched Academy Awards. I saw several pictures on the Facebook the day after Oscars and wondered why people keep uploading this weird (I thought at first) picture and I could not even guess what the picture meant to people. It was just not a group-selfie, but it was a something that gives huge feeling of love to each other. World is changing. Yet, there are many social issues such as gender issues and racism. This year, the selfie (it is fabulous, the picture of itself) and Lupita Nyong’o ‘s speech inspired people over the world that now is the time to move on.


    I have to say that this year’s speeches as well as previous interviews of the Oscars, have been very empowering for those watching, well at least for me. The way in which celebrities were standing up for something they truly believe shows and I think that it is why people are resonating with this actors. When Lupita talks about her beauty issues and how long it took her to accept herself, I believe her, at it makes me realize that even though we do put them, celebrities, in an altar, they are normal people, ‘just like us!’.
    It is important that in the night of the Oscars, a congregation where millions of people all around the world are watching, some try and make a difference, they are utilizing their star power for a positive thing, to bring light to an issue that many might not be aware of but due to the fact that they have mentioned it, those who ‘like/follow’ them are now going to take an interest to find out at least what it was that that Jared Leto was talking about.
    Overall I believe that this little comments by celebrities do have an impact in the world, one way or another, they are using themselves and the industry as a platform to communicate the world what it is that we should be paying more attention towards, trying to make it better.

  15. Priyanka Paul

    This year was the first time I actually saw the Oscars from start to finish, otherwise usually I have watched the previous years in bits and pieces. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole event. For me it was exciting watching the red carpet and seeing what everyone was wearing and I enjoyed Ellen DeGeneres a lot as well. It was interesting hearing about the movies I had seen as well as all those I had not seen. I was particularly impressed to hear about the many actors whose lives were changed by the movies they made this past year like Barkhad Abdi, Jared Leto, Lupita Nyong’o, Matthew McConaughey etc. All of the performances were extraordinary and gave the show an even more glamorous feel.

    In the world we live in people see celebrities as their icons, whom they look up to. Therefore it was especially great to learn about all the causes brought up at the oscars through the movies and winners’ speeches. I believe that people like Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto etc are who inspire common people and make them aware of issues and help them believe and fight for social causes of the world.

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