Oscars Get Political, As Acceptance Speeches Wade Into Social Issues

Feb 23, 2015
Originally published on February 23, 2015 2:02 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is a morning to marvel at who won Oscars last night and who didn't quite. "Boyhood" was a deeply moving film but did not win best picture. "Grand Budapest Hotel" did OK, but Bill Murray really should have won for best supporting hotel concierge. Those who did manage big wins at the Academy Awards included "Birdman." Michael Keaton plays a movie star trying to make a comeback on stage in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIRDMAN")

EMMA STONE: (As Sam) You're not important. Get used to it.

BENJAMIN KANES: (As Young Birdman) We'll make a comeback. You can do it. You hear me? You are Birdman.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mandalit del Barco has more on the Oscars.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: "Birdman" flew away with four Academy Awards. The best picture winner had been filmed to seem like one seamless shot, and that earned its cinematographer, Emmanuel Chivo Lubezki, an Oscar an unprecedented two years in a row. Writer and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu picked up an award for his screenplay and another as best director.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU: Tonight, I am wearing the real Michael Keaton tighty whities.

(LAUGHTER)

DEL BARCO: Inarritu didn't just joke about his lead actor's costume in the film. He also talked backstage about the challenge of getting an unusual film like this made. When he accepted his best director award on stage, he dedicated it to his fellow Mexicans.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

INARRITU: I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

DEL BARCO: Wes Anderson's quirky comedy "The Grand Budapest Hotel" won four Oscars for its costume design, makeup and hair styling, production design and best original score by Alexander Desplat. All the other best picture nominees came away with at least one award. "American Sniper," the biggest box office draw of the group, won for best sound editing. But "Whiplash," a movie that didn't sell many tickets, picked up three awards, including one for best supporting actor J.K. Simmons. In the best actress category, Julianne Moore won for her role as a professor who is coping with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

JULIANNE MOORE: Thank you so much. I read an article that said that winning an Oscar could lead to living five years longer. If that's true, I'd really like to thank the Academy because my husband is younger than me.

DEL BARCO: British actor Eddie Redmayne got his award for portraying theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Backstage, Redmayne talked about training and dance for the physically challenging role. Onstage, he seemed blown away.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

EDDIE REDMAYNE: This Oscar - wow...

(LAUGHTER)

REDMAYNE: This Oscar - this belongs to all of those people around the world battling ALS.

DEL BARCO: Another best picture nominee "The Imitation Game" is the true story of code breaker and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, who was prosecuted for being a gay man in 1950's England. Graham Moore adapted Turing's biography into a screenplay that earned an Oscar. His acceptance speech was also dramatic.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

GRAHAM MOORE: 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. And so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere - yes, you do. I promise you do - you do - stay weird, stay different, and then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERO")

FAMILY OF THE YEAR: (Singing) Let me go. I don't want to be your hero.

DEL BARCO: Richard Linklater's coming-of-age film "Boyhood" had been a front-runner for many of the top awards. But in the end, the film that took 12 years to make only got one Academy award for supporting actress Patricia Arquette. In her speeches backstage and onstage, she brought up a number of issues important to her, ranging from ecological sanitation in the developing world to equal pay for women.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

PATRICIA ARQUETTE: To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights. It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

DEL BARCO: Another woman who won an Oscar last night was Laura Poitras. Her documentary "Citizenfour" featured Edward Snowden and the U.S. government surveillance programs he revealed.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

LAURA POITRAS: When the most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control.

DEL BARCO: This year's Academy Awards were widely criticized for a lack of diversity. Nominees in all 20 acting categories were white, an issue host Neil Patrick Harris joked about in his opening monologue.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Tonight, we honor Hollywood's best and whitest - sorry, brightest.

(LAUGHTER)

DEL BARCO: Some civil rights groups had planned to protest outside the ceremony, but "Selma" director Ava DuVernay reportedly convinced them to begin a dialogue with the Academy instead. DuVernay would've been the first African-American woman in the best director category. She was not nominated. Neither was actor David Oyelowo who portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. in the movie. The biopic picked up just one award for best song. "Glory" was performed onstage by Common, John Legend and a large choir on a set replicating the legendary Alabama bridge that was key in the civil rights movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

JOHN LEGEND: (Singing) Oh, glory

CHOIR: (Singing) Glory. Glory.

LEGEND: (Singing) Oh.

CHOIR: (Singing) Glory.

DEL BARCO: The performance got a standing ovation, and there were tears in the audience. In accepting the award, John Legend said he and Common wrote the song for events of 50 years ago, but the issues still resonate.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

LEGEND: The struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you and march on. God bless you.

(APPLAUSE)

COMMON: Thank you, thank you everyone.

DEL BARCO: John Legend also quoted from singer Nina Simone that it's an artist's duty to reflect the times in which they live. By addressing so many issues, the winners at last night's Oscars attempted to do just that. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.