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Oscars 2022: A Ceremonial Conversation On Inclusivity & Mental Health

The inaugural 94th Oscars 2022 took place at LA’s Dolby Theatre. It was a roller-coaster of an event as the who’s who of Hollywood attended. Actors Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall stepped in as hosts.

Legends like Sir Kenneth Branagh and Will Smith won their first Oscars for Belfast and King Richard, respectively. This was in the ‘Best Original Screenplay’ and ‘Best Leading Actor’ categories, respectively. Iconic films like The Godfather were tributed. Popular singers Beyonce and Billie Eilish also performed.

Conversations on ’empathy’ and ‘kindness’ were constantly raised as we live in a world of ‘hate’ and ‘conflict’. Beyond the glitz, glamour and prestige of the awards, there seems to have been an onus on raising mental health awareness. This can be seen through various nominations, winners and speeches. Many of which revolve around inclusivity of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Coda: The Voice For Hearing-Impaired Community

Coda by Sian Heder bags The ‘Best Picture’, ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ trophies. The Apple TV+ film is a coming-of-age story about a sole hearing member within a hearing-impaired family who attempts to help the struggling business while pursuing her own dreams.

The movie deals with emotional vulnerability and dysfunctionality in a subtle way where mental health is a prominent yet silent theme. Troy Kotsur becomes the first deaf man to win an Oscar for acting.

“My dad, he was the best signer in our family, but he was in a car accident and he became paralyzed from the neck down, and he no longer was able to sign,” Kotsur cites in his acceptance speech, delivered in American Sign Language.

“Dad, I learned so much from you. I’ll always love you. You are my hero.” He dedicates his win to the deaf community, the CODA community and the disabled community. “This is our moment,” he said. The award is empowering and inspiring as it offers hope for a utopian life.

Ariana DeBose & Triumph For Queer People Of Colour

Ariana DeBose becomes the first openly Queer Woman of Colour to win an acting Oscar. She bags the ‘Best Supporting Actress’ category for playing Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. The role represents the marginalised section of society, who suffer from racial disparity and life ideologies.

Anita is subjected to a life of financial/emotional hardship as well as suffering from crime. But yet, she believes in the American dream. Anita fights the trauma and faces up to reality by returning to her home. The role is a testament to the spirit of human grit and mental strength.

Her speech is just as empowering. “Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. Look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of colour and Latina who found her life and strength in art,” she says to loud cheers and applause from the audience.

“That’s what I believe we are here to celebrate. So to anybody who has ever questioned your identity, ever, ever, ever, — or you find yourself living in the grey spaces — I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us.” Ironically, DeBose becomes the second Latina winner after Rita Moreno won an Oscar for the same role in 1962.

Jessica Chastain Speaks Up For LGBTQIA+ Rights & Suicide Prevention

After Jessica Chastain bags her first Oscar for The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, she too addresses rights for the LGBTQIA+ community as well as suicide prevention. In her acceptance speech, she says: “Right now, we are coming out of some difficult times, [where we were faced with] love, trauma and isolation. So many people out there feel hopelessness and they feel alone.”

“And suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. It’s touched many families, it’s touched mine and especially members of the LGBTQ community, who oftentimes feel out of place with their peers. We’re faced with discriminatory and bigoted legislation that is sweeping our country with the only goal of further dividing us. There are violence and hate crimes being perpetuated on innocent civilians all over the world.”

Her bold speech addresses Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill that ‘limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity’. Her character is inspired by Tammy Faye Bakker, a televangelist, author and talk show host. She was known for her outrageous persona as well as her advocacy for the LGBTQ community.

Chastain was nominated alongside Kristen Stewart (Spencer), Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), Penelope Cruz (Parallel Mothers) and Nicole Kidman (Being The Ricardos). These roles showcase women coping with sentimental conflicts, especially in motherhood. Plus, they are confronted with past occurrences and how they interfere with their current life situation. With the exception of Being The Ricardos, gender fluidity is a common theme.

Will Smith Attacks Chris Rock On-Stage

 

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Will Smith assaulting Chris Rock is one of the most shocking moments at this year’s Academy Awards. An incident that was live-streamed across the globe. The altercation occurs after Rock mocks Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair loss from alopecia. After which Smith walks on stage and hits him. He yells: “keep my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth”.

Jada has been quite vocal about this condition and this is not the first time a joke is made at the couple however, it seems like this feud between Smith and Rock has been brewing for years. In 2018, Chris posted a controversial comment about the actor on social media that referenced his previous marriage. But earlier in his 2016 opening monologue about diversity, Chris mocked Jada for boycotting the Oscars after Will was not nominated for Concussion.

This event raises several questions about ethicality and how violence is never the answer. Whilst the Academy has condemned this on social media, Smith faced domestic violence at a young age. When he tearfully accepts the award, he expresses how he felt compelled to defend his family. “I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse and have people talk crazy about you. Have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK. But love will make you do crazy things.”

This incident is not just about taking a stand or siding with a celebrity and of course, violence is never the answer. But it is about understanding that there are several trigger points behind a distasteful action, as well as understanding that actions carry grave consequences. Furthermore, to what extent are ‘jokes’ actually appropriate? In this cruel world we live in and the empathy we seek, is such humour really the way forward?

Moreover, the acceptance speech shows a teary-eyed Smith. “D Denzel (Washington) said to me a few minutes ago, he said, ‘At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.’ It’s like I want to be a vessel for love. I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena. I just spit, I hope they didn’t see that. I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena and the entire Williams family for entrusting me with your story. That’s what I want to do. I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern.” He apologises to The Academy and his co-nominees

Last year, Will also revealed his mental health struggles and at one point, even contemplated claiming his own life. Perhaps these are conversations we as a society must have, in a more assertive way.

What Mental Health Experts Say

According to Paracelsus Recovery, a clinic that has treated dozens of celebrities, Oscar winners are almost seven times more likely to suffer from mental health and addiction issues than other people, the Daily Mail cites.

Out of the 60 performers who won either the Best Actor or Best Actress gong since 1992, 41 have suffered from a mental health issue. These include depression, anxiety and substance abuse being the most common problems.

Dr Paul Hokemeyer, an expert in celebrity mental health opines that fame is often associated with ‘fear, pain and loneliness’ and major success may lead to impostor syndrome. He says:

“The level of success that Oscar-winning celebrities attain is beyond comprehension for about 99.9 per cent of the population. The drive, work and confluence of circumstances that it takes to get there are otherworldly. For this reason, once attained, the success feels empty and fraudulent. It feels undeserved.”

In the past, major winners like Nicolas Cage (who won Best Actor in 1996) and Emma Stone (Best Actress in 2017) opened up on alcohol abuse and other psychological problems, respectively. Three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis quit acting at the age of 60 due to depression.

Statistics, according to the article, show that ten per cent of the general population have a mental health issue. However, this rises to 68 per cent among Oscar winners.

Oscars 2022 is progressive in addressing such issues, but several questions remain. Shall we now see a paradigm shift within the industry where empathy and compassion becomes an integral part of the Hollywood machinery?

Or will mental health be confined to another ‘woke’ headline theme for The Academy? Only time will tell.

Read the full list of Oscars winners here.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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