Much hype and controversy surrounded this year’s Oscars. The 88th Academy Awards ceremony took place on Sunday Feb. 28. Leonardo DiCaprio’s first win, the debate regarding racial discrimination within the nomination process, Lady Gaga’s tribute to sexual assault victims and many other aspects of the event generated an emotional roller coaster for attendees and viewers alike. Chris Rock seemed to be the perfect choice for the host, guiding the audience through a witty opening monologue addressing the discrimination accusations. He referred to the ceremony as “the White People’s Choice Awards” and said, “I counted at least 15 black people in that montage.” He went on to add that, “Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’”
Rock’s comedy strategically dealt with the heavy issue that was the elephant in the room. He acknowledged the controversy’s credibility while also lightening the mood in preparation for the awards. Race issues were tackled throughout the show. In a video clip bit, actors including Whoopi Goldberg and Kristin Wiig comically recognized racist undertones in today’s pop culture.
Winning the first and last award of the night for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture was the drama Spotlight. This was no surprise considering its quality director and its saturation of A-list names as well as its focus on the importance of investigative journalism working to address the pervasive but largely ignored epidemic of sexual abuse within Catholic clergy. From there, the awards continued as they annually do, but with an emphasis on promptness regarding winners’ acceptance speeches. Another memorable highlight from the night was Mad Max: Fury Road winning six Oscars.
Perhaps the most anticipated part of the ceremony was the Best Actor Oscar—finally awarded to DiCaprio. His nomination for his role in The Revenant was his sixth nomination, but his first win. In his acceptance speech, he stated his appreciation, but also took the opportunity to use the spotlight to address environmental issues.
“Climate change is real; it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our species,” he said. “Let us not take this planet for granted—I do not take this night for granted.”
DiCaprio’s win marks the end of a meme trend poking fun at the ridiculousness of his lack of Oscar wins, but opens the floodgates to an entirely new meme onslaught such as a picture of him behind the text, “The Revenant: The epic tale of what one man will go through just to win an Oscar.” Joking aside, much of the public would agree that DiCaprio’s award was well deserved and long overdue.
Another star of the night was 9-year-old Canadian actor Jacob Tremblay, who was commended by critics for his role in Room. His Room co-star Brie Larson won the Best Actress award. Larson high-fived and hugged Tremblay in an adorable show of friendly affection and acknowledgment of each other’s teamwork.
Additionally, Lady Gaga’s performance of her powerful song “Til It Happens to You” was an incredible part of the night, paying tribute to victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault. She and Diane Warren specifically wrote the Best Original Song nominee for the documentary The Hunting Ground, which explores sexual assault on college campuses. Gaga’s performance was emotional and captivating, especially in the wake of Kesha’s recent legal battle with her producer Dr. Luke following rape allegations against him.
To say that the 88th Academy Awards was bursting with social issues and historic moments would be an understatement. The memorable ceremony undoubtedly brought audience members and viewers to tears of empathy, cultural frustration, joy and everything in between.