5 Times Activism Took Centre Stage At The Oscars


15 February 2019

5 Times Activism Took Centre Stage At The Oscars

5 Times Activism Took Centre Stage At The Oscars

There have been so many noteworthy moments at the Oscars, but some are more memorable than others. Sadly, it’s often the cases where things go wrong that are remembered more. Let’s take a look at moments from the Oscars that focus less on things going wrong, and focus more on important messages we should all be remembering.

2002: Halle Berry takes a stand for black women everywhere

In 2002, Halle Berry won the Oscar for Best Actress, for her role in Monster’s Ball, and she used her acceptance speech to comment on her hopes that this would bring more opportunities and recognition for black women. 

“This moment is bigger than me,” she sobbed. “It’s for every nameless, faceless woman of colour that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”

Yet she remains the only black woman to have won the award for Best Actress. In 2016, Berry said how disappointed she was that that moment hadn’t turned out to be what she’d hoped it would be. 

“To sit here almost 15 years later and know that another woman of colour has not walked through that door is heart-breaking,” she said. “It’s heart-breaking because I thought that moment was bigger than me.” 


And she was right. It is heart-breaking that a moment that should have meant more opportunities for black women, meant only that Halle Berry had been recognised for her excellent job in her role.

2016: Whitewashed Oscars called out by Chris Rock

In 2016 Chris Rock started with his 11-minute opening monologue addressing the issue of #OscarsSoWhite. The hashtag was created by activist April Reign, after 20 white actors and actresses were nominated for the lead and supporting acting categories. For the second year in a row. Chris Rock decided to tackle it head on, making people laugh and cringe. 

“I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards,” he said. “You realise if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. Y’all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.”

He went on to point out that in the 88 years of the show’s history, more often than not people of colour weren’t included in the major acting categories. Chris Rock made an example of Hollywood and the Oscars, beautifully pointing out the racism that was rife within the industry and the show. It’s sad that this still needed to be said in 2016, and continues to be an issue in 2019. 

2016: DiCaprio against global warming

Also in 2016, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won. He had been nominated six times and spent 27 years in Hollywood, and he had finally managed to win. So what was Leo’s first thought? You’d assume he’d be thinking ‘finally! I did it!’ or something along those lines, but no. Not DiCaprio. His first thought was the planet. He used his speech to talk about global warming. 

“Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. Let us not take this planet for granted.”

A beautiful speech with an important message. This wasn’t the speech that was expected as he threw aside his always-the-bridesmaid act, but it was a speech that we needed to hear. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves, Leo. 

2018: Frances McDormand calls for women to rise against the patriarchy

In 2018, Frances McDormand won an Oscar for Best Actress in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. She started her acceptance speech with a snowboarding metaphor and an announcement that she ‘had some things to say’. She commented on being a feminist when she thanked her husband and son, saying “these two stalwart individuals were well raised by their feminist mothers.”

She then placed her Oscar on the floor and patted it on the head. She said it was time for some perspective. Putting her hand on her heart, she asked all the female nominees from every category to stand with her. “Meryl if you do it everyone else will.” And they did. The women stood with her as she continued her speech.

“Ladies and gentlemen look around, because we all have stories to tell and projects we want financed. Don’t talk to us about it at the party later. Invite us to your offices, or come to ours, and we’ll tell you all about them.”

Her not so subtle way of telling Hollywood that women had ideas, and that women’s ideas were just as important as men’s and just as worthy of time and money, was a remarkable moment at the Oscars and in Hollywood, especially at that time. 

She ended her speech with “I have two words to leave you with tonight ladies and gentlemen; inclusion rider.” Inclusion rider basically means that actors can use a clause in a contract to insist upon equality in production, to have equal men, women and people of colour working on a set. The message McDormand sent was that the power belonged to the actors, not to corporations or anyone else. Equality was, and is, achievable.

2018: Time’s up, Weinstein. #MeToo takes the world by storm.

2018 was the year we saw #MeToo and #TimesUp. The movements stole the spotlight at the Oscars, with three of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers taking to the stage to promote the campaign. They introduced a montage on #TimesUp that contained the voices of many women, including Greta Gerwig, Ava DuVernay, Geena Davis and Mira Sorvino. Ashley Judd spoke about ‘New voices, different voices, OUR voices. Time’s Up!’ 

The #MeToo movement had also played a big part in Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue, and the campaign hit the Oscars in style with many wearing pins, including Meryl Streep rocking a Time’s Up pin in her hair. The movements were an enormous step for women, summed up by Judd, who said: “It marked a time when everyone was listening to women. What’s so spectacular is that the world is finally able to hear.”

While it is saddening that this kind of campaign was still necessary in 2018, it’s worth noting the huge step that was taken in the right direction towards fixing the problem. Every platform was used to promote the campaign and thousands of women around the world found their voices as a result. 

At the Oscars, the change was attributed to the shame being lifted from victims and placed instead onto perpetrators. Sexual misconduct, be it harassment, assault or abuse, within any context cannot, and will not, be tolerated.

Written by Sarah Barrass-Harding

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