Are The Oscars More Than Just An Awards Ceremony?

What are the Oscars? Well, it seems rather obvious to say they are an awards ceremony; one which celebrates the remarkable talent of the film industry. Because of course that's what they are, but after last night's ceremony, the question must be posed: might they be also something else? Something a little more significant?

As actors took to the stage in yesterday's 88th annual ceremony to introduce trophies – and indeed, pick them up – a number chose to use the opportunity for far more than mere jokes and lists of people to thank...

From diversity to child abuse, the environment to the under-represented LGBT community, actors used their moment in the spotlight to shine a light instead on some of the world's most serious issues. In doing so, the 2016 Oscars became far more than mere 'awards ceremony'. It became a rally for change.

Let's look back at the issues drawn attention to last night...

Chris Rock on Diversity

He was announced as the ceremony's host before the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag emerged and Rock had a difficult task ahead of him, addressing it. But the comedian did it perfectly.

He raised the issue from the outset, highlighting its seriousness, but then eased the tension, making light of the furore surrounding it too.

'Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist. But it isn’t the racist you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like — "We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa." That’s how Hollywood is.'

'We want opportunity,' he said later. 'Give black actors the same opportunities as white actors.'

He then went on to mock actors such as Jada Pinkett Smith (wife of actor Will Smith) who boycotted the awards over the issue. 'Jada got mad, she said she’s not coming. Doesn’t she have a TV show? Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties – I wasn’t invited!' he quipped.

The Revenent director Alejandro González Iñárritu later also referenced diversity in his Best Director winning speech, calling on our generation to 'liberate ourselves from all prejudice'.

Leonardo DiCaprio on the enviroment

It's an issue close to his heart, but Leo used his career-defining moment to draw attention to climate change.

'Climate change is real,' he said, 'it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together... we need to support leaders around the world [...] who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, with the billions and billions of underprivileged peope who will be most affected by this.'

He ended his speech, movingly: 'Let us not take this planet for granted; I do not take tonight for granted.'

Spotlight Producer Michael Sugar on child abuse

Accepting the Best Film Oscar for Spotlight – a movie which centres on the Boston Globe journalists who uncovered a Catholic Church cover-up that enabled priests to get away with child abuse – producer Michael Sugar called up the Vatican in Rome.

'This film gave a voice to survivors, and this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican.' Sugar said.

Another of the film's prodcuers, who also took to the stage to collect the award, drew attention to the important work done by investigative journalists.

Sam Smith on the LGBT community

When he picked up his award for Best Original Song, Sam Smith referenced a quote he'd read by Sir Ian McKellen, where the knighted Brit had said that no openly gay actor had ever won an Oscar.*

'If this is the case – even if it isn't the case – I want to dedicate this to the LGBT community all around the world,' he said.

Whilst Smith was in fact wrong – a number of openly gay people have won Oscars (Sir Elton John in 1994 in the same category for one) – he was right to draw attention to the issue, for the LGBT winning list is by no means extensive.

( What Sir Ian McKellen actually said was that no openly gay man had ever won the Best Actor award.*)

Let's hope that now these issues are taking centre stage, that those in a position to bring about change, do so with immediate haste.

The world is watching – and it is waiting for a response.

Grazia magazine cover