Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Mile in Her Shoes

The Academy Awards were handed out last Sunday, and while the awards show is a highlight for movie lovers, who endure the boring parts to feast on the cinematic nuggets, this year's speeches are worth special mention, if not an award themselves.

Three speeches stood out, all beautifully delivered by actors who were obviously humbled by the honor of holding that little gold statue. All illustrate the need for compassion and perspective for those who experience life from a different seat at the table, and each shone a light on issues that make us different and the same in one breath.

J.K. Simmons heard his name called for Best Supporting Actor but took away the award for Best Supporting Husband, Father, and Son. Not one mention of an agent or manager or director, Simmons chose to thank the people in his life who mean the most to him - his wife, his children, and his parents. He ended on a unique note with instruction to "Call your parents," a lightly veiled indication that he no longer has the opportunity to do so and everyone listening should make that call before their chance disappears.


Common and John Legend heard their names announced as winners of Best Original Song for "Glory" in the movie Selma. The spirit of the song stands for more than the fight for equality of African Americans, but for equality for all. For as long as one person is systematically disenfranchised, for as long as one person is discriminated against, for as long one person is purposely shut out from opportunities, we all suffer. We are all less than we could be if our society works to make one person less than a full member with equal rights. If it can happen to one group, then it can happen to me, and to you, and to another and another and another.




Patricia Arquette had her chance on the stage when her name was called for Best Supporting Actress. This was her first Oscar nomination and last opportunity during this year's award season to take the stage after her multiple wins. She used her time to shine a light on the pervasive issue of wage inequality between men and women. While cheers were heard in the audience, the public reaction was mixed with some applauding her stance and others saying wage inequality is unfounded. Some people vehemently denied that women statistically make, on average, 78% of a man's wages for doing the same job with the same experience. Some said women's child rearing roles, and choices therein, affected the statistics. Others said women were not as assertive as men in asking for higher wages. Still others claimed that since they had never experienced it, the idea of it was bunk.  


Social media lit up with comments from both sides of the aisle, some applauding the sentiments of these speeches, some saying personal, and mostly political, views should be absent from award shows like this.  Admittedly, I was in that camp for many years, chastising actors for making this stage a forum for their own political views. 

But what is art -- what are films -- if not an illustration of society? Art, and movies in particular, reflect society, whether that be struggle or triumph, observation or dreams. Each of these speeches reflected what was real to the speaker -- loss of meaningful communication, racial discrimination, gender inequality. A viewer could easily shake off these words that are uncomfortable, citing the need to be comfortable, the need to be uncontroversial, the need to be vanilla. 

Each of these speeches reflects feelings that are very real to the speaker. To discount the words for being too uncomfortable for a public telecast is to diminish the feelings of the speaker. You don't have to agree with everything they say, but to erase the topic with a broad stroke does not mean it does not exist. It is acceptable to discuss the hard topics. Progress can only be made from discussing, not ignoring. 

And so, I challenge you to discuss the hard topics with those around you. This can be done calmly and rationally, with each side voicing their opinions without diminishing another's view. Listen to an alternative opinion. Listen to those who do not agree with you. Ask questions about how the person feels. Learn why they feel that way. Try, for even a moment, to walk in his or her shoes so you can better understand the point of view. We don't have to agree on everything, but we can respect each other's opinions. Perhaps when we meet in a field of respect, we can actually find resolution.

2 comments:

  1. Right now I am giving YOU my own standing ovation because every issue (within these speeches) that you highlight here is worth strengthening our awareness of. "Progress can only be made from discussing, not ignoring". This is exactly it. And "listening to those who do not agree with us, asking questions and learning why they feel that way"... again, this is exactly how we can feed our compassion, our awareness. Bravo Rita, your words and thoughts are, as always, inspiring and brilliant. Thank you.

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    1. Oh, my friend, thank you. Sometimes I write these things and wonder if anyone other than me will feel this way, or even read it! Then, I am humbled by lovely words of support from across the miles. My spirit is fueled again. :-)

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