After this year’s Academy Awards, the media was awash with coverage of and commentary on the various acceptance speeches that vociferously backed a social cause. From Patricia Arquette’s promotion of equal pay for women (admirable in isolation, if marred by her disappointing intersectionality comments afterwards), Graham’s Moore’s vocalisation of depression, and John Legend’s advocacy of social justice for black men, both the media and the Twitterati were dished up a veritable feast of sound-bites and causes to analyse.
What has become clear, however, is that many are less than impressed by these stars’ campaigns on The Oscars’ stage. Some have claimed that the speeches do not go far enough, or are otherwise missing the mark. For an event that is guaranteed mammoth media coverage, are stars doing enough with such a valuable platform?
Graham Moore, in his acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game, gave a heartfelt account of his own battle with depression as a teenager. “When I was 16 years old I tried to kill myself, because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here.” Moore urged any young person who “feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere” that they do fit in somewhere, to “stay weird”, and to pass the message on when they too achieve success.
This was Moore’s first public discussion of depression. It was a source of confusion to many, however, who assumed his speech was directed at LGBT teens. As he embarked on his advice, Moore noted that “Alan Turing never got to stand on a stage like this and look out on all these disconcertingly attractive faces. And I do. And that’s the most unfair thing I think I’ve ever heard.”
Alan Turing, war-time mathematician and code-breaker on whose story The Imitation Game was based, is most likely to have committed suicide as a result of being prosecuted for his homosexuality. Many viewers and commentators were understandably affronted by Moore’s choice of the word “weird”, having linked his speech to Turing’s plight. Coupled with the controversy surrounding the film for its minimisation of the gay experience, some were left feeling cheated by Moore’s speech, which missed the opportunity to champion gay causes.
However, it seems that we are forgetting that The Oscars, whilst an extraordinary platform for voicing social issues, are also a celebration of personal achievement. We should encourage the championing of issues, but let the stars’ choose theirs. Each winner cannot be expected, in their minute long moment, to champion all of black rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, awareness of Ebola and other devastating diseases, human rights breaches, widening wealth gaps and every other social problem that may be relevant to the film or individual nominated. Yes, The Oscars are a huge and valuable platform, but film stars are also individuals and this is a celebration of their personal journeys.
Moore did not address LGBT issues, but perhaps we should not oblige him to in a message about his own experiences, struggles and personal success. His link to Turing’s plight may have confused some, but for Moore the link was both clear, personal and inspiring: “I’m not gay, but I’ve never talked publicly about depression before or any of that and that was so much of what the movie was about, and it was one of the things that drew me to Alan Turing so much”, Moore later explained. “I think we all feel like weirdos for different reasons. Alan had his share of them, and I had my own. And that’s what always moved me so much about his story.” Whilst Moore chose to focus on his own triumph over adversity, LGBT issues should clearly be given the powerful support at the Oscars that they deserve. Moore’s speech, however, was still a fantastic step in helping destigmatise depression and other mental illnesses, and should be recognised as such.
The Oscars are a brilliant platform for advocacy, but we must not rebuke those who pass on a message centred on the path that led them to the success they are there to celebrate. There are many events like The Oscars which garner significant media coverage, and which are also suited to raising an issue – take, for example, the GLAMOUR Women of The Year Awards or GQ Men of the Year Awards, both produced by our client Timebased, which provide great platforms to promote the ideals which nominated individuals support. We should celebrate those who choose to speak out against social problems and applaud the bravery of advocates of stigmatised matters. We should not, however, dictate what they should champion.