Last week was the 88th Oscars and the most used hashtag leading up to the event was #OscarsSoWhite. Chris Rock hosted the show amidst the controversy of a predominantly white listing of nominees using his jokes to talk about the white elephants in the room. All of this focus on Hollywood and its role in the great art of storytelling through film leads us into a discussion on opportunity and freedom.
Hollywood Signs and Meanings
When I moved to Los Angeles I was invited to go to a church that was located in downtown LA. I would see the Hollywood sign time and time again; and it soon became one of my favorite symbols. It’s not just me, the Hollywood sign is easily one of the most iconic symbols in America (and the world). Further, it is every bit as memorable as The Statue of Liberty located in New York and The Liberty Bell located in Philadelphia.
Whenever we see these larger than life symbols we are taken to very specific thoughts. We see issues and stories represented in these items. The Statue of Liberty reminds us of the countless stories of immigrants fleeing oppression to become citizens of a new nation. The Liberty Bell helps us remember the principles that helped found the USA. And the white Hollywood sign, many see this symbol and think of movie magic, the stars in the sidewalk, and the stars who are featured in the movies we love to watch, and the dreamers who so densely populate the city.
I would argue that each of the symbols: the statue, the bell, and the sign have liberty as their central theme. Liberty from oppressive places that inhibit a pursuit for a whole and flourishing life. Liberty is quickly and rightly equated with freedom; being free to act as one wishes without oppressive restrictions. And that takes us to the heart of the 2016 Oscars controversy… being free to act.
Chris Rock said in his opening monologue:
“Now the thing is, Why are we protesting? The big question: Why this Oscars? Why this Oscars, you know?It’s the 88th Academy Awards. It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times. O.K.?”
Chris Rock is right; this problem of exclusion is an 88 year and older problem. This year there were a range of responses. With the #OscarsSoWhite as a backdrop, some were given reason to boycott the show and others took it as a reason to show up. If you had a ticket for the show or if you tuned into the Oscars you could’ve heard Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, say,
“The Oscars celebrates the storytellers who have the opportunity to work in the powerful medium of film. And with that opportunity comes responsibility, our audiences are global and rich in diversity and every facet of our industry should be as well. Everyone in the Hollywood community has a role to play in bringing about the vital changes the industry needs so that we can accurately reflect the world today.”
When we consider the impact of a well told story we discover that it can change the way we think and live. As I watched the Oscars I realized the deep role that film plays in our society. Through this art-form we have a way of approaching the big issues of life that allows for truth and hope to be held in tension. Through film we can be represented by a story that we know all too well and we can be sensitized to stories that we do not know anything about. Storytelling; a high calling indeed.
Now more than ever that Hollywood sign needs to be a renewed symbol of liberty. A strengthened symbol, marking a place in this world where unheard voices are not just heard but amplified through the powerful medium of film. Unheard voices telling unknown stories. And the golden Oscar statues ought to reward the most excellent work like this. I’ve heard it said, “Whatever is rewarded is repeated.” Each dollar bill you spend on a movie is a reward like the golden Oscar statue. Be empowered to give out your rewards for excellence that enhances humanity. And when you hand out your rewards, you are able to help Hollywood become a place of increasing liberty, where all are free to act.