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So Sunday night was the 87th Academy Awards and overall it was a disappointing night, saved only by Lady Gaga’s tribute to Julie Andrews and the fact that American Sniper won absolutely nothing. There were some exciting wins (Eddie Redmayne for Best Actor) and some not so exciting ones. But then Patricia Arquette took the stage at the Oscars and highlighted just how out of touch they are.
After winning the award for Best Supporting Actress, Arquette took the opportunity to advocate for equal pay for women across the USA. So far, so good, and we were treated to a shot of Grand Supreme Meryl Streep cheering her support. But then Arquette veered off slightly.
She went on to say that gay people and ethnic minorities should stand up for women’s rights because women had ‘fought for everybody else’s equal rights’. Erm, what?
At no point did she mention the fact that Ava DuVernay, the black female director of Selma, was snubbed for a nomination for Best Director. At no point did she mention the fact that American Sniper depicts a man who called the Iraqi people ‘savages’ and publicly stated that he regrets not killing more, as a hero. At no point did she mention the lack of representation for gay men and lesbians – particularly lesbians – in mainstream cinema.
Her initial idea started out well – those who are oppressed should support each other in our unique fights for equality. But what about black women? Must they reject their history and community as black people in order to fight for more privileged white women? Do lesbians need to stop fighting for LGBT homeless youth in order to ensure that women are paid the same as men?
Unequal pay is still an issue, but there are still other issues that cannot be ignored: police brutality across the UK and USA, the horrifying statistics on rape, and the murder of gay men, bisexuals, lesbians and trans people across the world.
We need to consider our privileges in relation to other communities. Arquette considers oppression to be a ladder with men at the top and women at the bottom. Oppression is a matrix with many varying axes of privilege.
The statistics on the Oscar voters is troubling. Nearly 94% are Caucasian and the academy is 77% male. Black voters make up only 2% and Latino less than 2%. The median age of Oscar voters is 62 and just 14% of memberships is comprised of people younger than 50.
The Academy Awards, like many other arenas, is run by white men. Not that we aren’t making inroads – men of colour have won the award for Best Director for the past 3 years in a row: Ang Lee in 2012 for Life of Pi, Alfonso Cuarón in 2013 for Gravity and this year’s winner was Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman – whose win was marred by a particularly nasty comment from presenter Sean Penn.
But only four black men have won Best Actor, only one black woman has won Best Actress and only 10 more black people have won in any of the ‘Big Four’ acting categories. Clearly women are not the only group who are lacking representation for their achievements and talents.
Black lesbians exist, Latino gay men exist, trans Asian people exist and they do not owe rich white women their allegiance, especially when white women remain ignorant to the challenge of being a person of colour or LGBT in our society.