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Why Have The Oscars Become a Political Arena?

First the Super Bowl, now the Oscars! Should the cream of Hollywood be dictating to us what is politically important?

Cara Leavey

Naked Politics Blogger 

For the US, this week is understandably a pretty big deal. Super Tuesday has just passed and in a highly controversial race due to the success of some surprise characters, the whole world is watching. But whilst the Democratic and Republican candidate races are seemingly the biggest political event right now, the Academy Awards are quite the political platform too. From #OscarsSoWhite to environmentalism, big money influences on politics, equal rights, and simply being kinder to each other, there were many on Sunday who had a lot to say about the current state of the globe.

 The sway of these key players in Hollywood can by no means be understated. Just take Emma Watson, her campaigning for gender equality led to her appointment as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and she has now spoken in front of the UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon about the destructive nature of gender based stereotypes. She reflected on how appropriate it was for her to be there by asking “If not me, who? If not now, when?”  It’s fantastic to have many speak out against social injustices, especially those who are listened to by so many. Watson is not the first to be given such power. From U2’s Bono giving a supposed voice to Africa, to the Kardashian family being entertained by the Armenian Prime Minister on the issue of the Armenian genocide, you have to ask yourself: is it right for celebrities to decide what issues should be the most important, and more to the point, for their opinions to be given greater importance than others?

Adam McKay chipped in his thoughts about the election in his acceptance speech, “Most of all, if you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for candidates that take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires – stop”

This seemed like an endorsement of Bernie Sanders, so much so that Sanders has picked up McKay’s comment and used it at a rally in Milton, Mass. Sanders added ‘I am not quite sure how you bring about real change in America if your super PAC collects millions and millions of dollars from Wall Street and from drug companies and from the fossil fuel industry’. In some respects, Sanders is the ideal candidate. Just before Super Tuesday occurred, Sanders managed to raise $5.7m in a single day through his supporters help. Yet, despite McKay’s emotive speech, he fails to acknowledge that the biggest donator to Sanders campaign is ‘Alphabet Inc.’ with a staggering $162,339 donated. Alphabet Inc. itself is a multinational conglomerate, mainly made up of Google and its subsidiaries. There’s also funding from similar tech companies such as Microsoft and Apple Incorporated. The point is, if McKay is going to use the Academy Awards as a platform for his political opinion, he should not be oversimplifying a complex problem within the political system: if we take what McKay says seriously, funding reform needs to be pushed further and that is by no means easy. Sanders may not be in the pockets of oil companies or banks, but he is in now inclined to support these corporations who do not necessarily have the best ethical track record either. The problem is that we often make our choices based on the opinions of those we deem to be more informed than us, and as an Oscar winner and director of a film on the 2008 financial crisis, it would be fair to look to McKay for guidance.

Likewise, it isn’t out of place for Jenny Beavan to speak about environmentalism, as she designed costumes for the dystopian Mad Max. It is not bad for celebrities to use their power to highlight problems that face us, in fact it is great to have very real issues like corruption or environmentalism brought to public attention, but where do we draw the line? Should celebrities, who have not studied the issues they represent, be able to shape policy and decide what issues we should be talking about?

When it comes to gender equality, for example, should we not put more emphasis on what people like Malala Yousafzai have to say on the issue as they have experienced the very real dangers that it creates? Or how about with political corruption, maybe it’s time for people like McKay to acknowledge that it is a deep rooted systemic problem that cannot simply be resolved by electing a new candidate. Perhaps this is a cynical approach to the subject, but it seems like it is becoming increasingly important to reassess just the extent of power we give to celebrities.

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