When the Empire Strikes Back


Amongst the jeweled gowns and fanfare that littered the red carpet of the 89th Oscar Awards, there emerged a subversive, tiny blue motif sparking a message ever more powerful and assertive than has been seen before. As a means to confirm the rumors that the 2017 Oscar Awards would be the most politically charged in Academy Awards history, a handful of stars such as Ruth Negga, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Karlie Kloss, and more adorned their attire with subtle blue ribbons to stand in solidarity with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU, which has been a long-time proponent of LGBTQ, immigrant, and women’s rights, First Amendment advocacy, and government transparency, among other issues, has been vocal in its opposition to President Trump’s controversial executive order on immigration.

Image courtesy of The New York Times Image courtesy of The New York Times

As a means to expand upon on the outpouring of support that they have received since challenging the President’s migration ban in court, the ACLU said it reached out to all Oscar nominees to participate in the “Stand with the ACLU” initiative. Despite criticisms that the actors and actresses of Hollywood ought to remain apolitical because of a perceived wealth or status advantage that props them above “the people,” the blue ribbons have provided impetus for a subtle resistance movement amongst stars who are either directly impacted by recent developments, or for those who are more empathetic than they are widely perceived. Amongst these stars is director Barry Jenkins, who is nominated for best director for Moonlight. In offering his support for fellow artists who spoke out about politics at the awards, Jenkins claimed that “art is inherently political,” to contest suppositions of a Hollywood that engages in politics it doesn’t understand.

Standing alongside their work, the wardrobes of  many of these artists has further begun to signify simultaneously their resistance and their entrance into a political discourse that is becoming more personal to an expanding group of Americans, celebrities or not. A few other examples of such resistance at the Oscars this year include La La Land  star Emma Stone, who wore a subtle but effective Planned Parenthood pin on her dress at the award ceremony, and Lion star Dev Patel’s mother, who came as his date and wore a traditional Indian sari, honoring her culture amidst saturated Western tradition. Most notably, Ava DuVernay, director of Best Documentary nominee 13th, made the first of multiple political statements through clothing before even stepping foot on the red carpet. DuVernay, who also directed Selma, and the upcoming adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, tweeted a photo of herself with her eyes closed, holding a sweater with the name “Trayvon” emblazoned on it to reference the five-year anniversary of the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead by a police officer in Florida in 2012. Additionally, the director  made a political statement targeting President Trump’s immigration order as she donned a gown created by a Lebanese designer who, under the order, has been banned from entering the United States.

Image courtesy of Ava DuVernay on Twitter, @ava Image courtesy of Ava DuVernay on Twitter, @ava

The subtle acts of defiance championed by Ava DuVernay and other Oscars stars serve to represent a larger movement of defiance. As art and fashion become more politically charged, the correlation between increasingly contentious current events, and fashion transforming into talking pieces that carry more meaning than simply, “who are you wearing,” becomes entirely more evident.

Image courtesy of US Weekly Image courtesy of US Weekly

While there is a resounding cacophony stemming from a large number of Americans across the country who feel that Hollywood’s interjection into politics is inappropriate, I personally disagree with their claims. As politics have become, frankly, less political and more personal, especially in regards to issues of civil liberties that are relevant to women, people of color, the LGBT community, and other marginalized groups, I see it only as more appropriate that Hollywood stars involve themselves.

Image courtesy of USA Today Image courtesy of USA Today

To remove affected people, even if they are celebrities, from public discourse robs them of their artistry and silences their voices. And while I concede that an economic and class advantage has been conferred upon Hollywood stars that provide them with a blissful detachment from many of the woes that plague society, institutional prejudices remain universal.  I would venture so far as to say that eliminating Hollywood’s voices under the guise of equality is tantamount to a censorship of dissenting opinions.

Historically, media coming out of Hollywood has perpetuated stereotypes and has had a large role in framing the realities of people who are misunderstood or go unseen, and whether intentionally or not, have shaped harmful images of “outsiders” that have persisted over time. So, to treat Hollywood/media’s involvement in politics as if it were novel is disingenuous as I see it. Hollywood has interjected into politics since the inception of film and media, though not always in a progressive manner. The true novelty lies within the act of utilizing an artistic platform to combat social rules that have been longstanding and that ~white~ Americans have historically become comfortable living under. As Hollywood itself becomes more socially-conscious, the condemnation of this vocalism comes from people and parties known to be comfortable with the old status quo, i.e. – Donald Trump.

Image courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar Image courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar

I believe that Hollywood’s involvement in politics is forcing people to grapple with ideas that Americans find themselves uncomfortable engaging with, and I applaud them for doing so. To truly engage with an uncensored version America’s past will only benefit us moving forward. The ACLU ribbons, the blatant social references, the Planned Parenthood pins, and the indifference towards Western norms at the most recent Oscars demonstrate the diversification of rebellion and the way that it manifests itself through art. As threats to equality continue to mount in formidable ways, our responses to them must be unanimous and widespread. This is where the voices of Hollywood become crucial.

Written by Peter Makey

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