Oscars sometimes lead way for social change

Peterson Hill

There have been some groundbreaking years at the Academy Awards.

2005 was surely memorable, with one of the first movie that ever became popular about homosexuality.

1968 is known as the moment new Hollywood and old Hollywood converged.

Sometimes Hollywood is on the precipice of social change, bringing these issues to light. Certainly the cause of same-sex marriage was helped by the film “Brokeback Mountain,” and Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront” showed the horrors of the McCarthy era of politics.

The Academy Awards sometimes falter when it comes to social change, though.

There have only been four females in the history of this award show who have been nominated for Best Director. Kathryn Bigelow, who directed this year’s film “The Hurt Locker,” is also the only female who has ever had a real chance of winning. Her direction is actually likely to win her an award come Sunday night.

The fact that only four women have been nominated is something that makes the Academy’s panel, which is often seen as progressive, lose some credibility.

Along the lines of directors, this year Lee Daniels, who directed “Precious,” is making two Oscar firsts. On one hand, he is the first black director to ever direct a movie that has been nominated for Best Picture.

Imagine that. Spike Lee, who has brought us some of the most compelling cinema of the past 25 years, has never had a film that has been nominated for Best Picture.

I do believe that the Academy Awards are some of the most exciting three hours of television of the year. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that I will have my eyes glued to the screen for every minute.

What makes this night so interesting is that it highlights films most people aren’t likely to see.

If “The Hurt Locker” wins Best Picture this year, it will be the lowest grossing film to ever win the award, and I think that this is the best film of the past year.

A movie benefits from this type of publicity. Audiences hate touching movies about the Iraq war, but receiving a nomination for Best Picture is likely to bring more viewers to this film, which is a great thing.

Movies such as “An Education” also benefit from this type of exposure. These two films barely performed at the box office, but they are two of last year’s best, and it is wonderful seeing them get nominated.

Every once in a while, though, the Academy’s voting body does something remarkable.

Nearly 70 years ago, Hattie McDaniel became the first black actor or actress to ever win an Academy Award. Though she went on to win Best Supporting Actress, McDaniel wasn’t even invited to the premiere of the film “Gone With the Wind” because of the color of her skin. The Academy showed that they could be more progressive than the movies they honored.

Like many Americans, I will be huddled in a crowded room with other people who love to see great movies given the accolades they deserve. So, here’s hoping the Academy can usher in a new era of winners with the win of Kathryn Bigelow.

Peterson Hill is a senior in New College. His column runs on Wednesdays.