For one night every year, the world turns its gaze to Hollywood for three hours or so as the stars and celebrities converge on Tinseltown for the annual Oscars ceremony. And on Sunday night, the annual event of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognised the best actors, directors, writers, technicians and movies of this past year. The ceremony was certainly prestigious even if there were more than a few surprises — and the event served as a very timely and poignant reminder of need for social and racial inclusion.
Bohemian Rhapsody had been panned by serious critics but much-loved by those who bought tickets at the box office, well on its way now to passing the $1 billion mark in takings around the world. And for its star performer, Rami Malek, Sunday also brought the coveted Best Actor award for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury from his earliest days with Queen.
For Malek, the Oscar represents the pinnacle of his career thus far. The actor is the son of Egyptians who moved to the US for a better life and the opportunities afforded to new arrivals. That is a dream that has come true for so many, but now is a dream that is put beyond reach by deliberately divisive policies in vogue in a society riven by populist values.
Would Malek’s parents be able now to make the US their home now at a time when those born in Muslim-majority nations are considered second-class citizens and openly discriminated against in current policies passed down from the Oval Office? Would they be given visas or would their application to live and work in the US be passed over, simply on the basis of the current passport that they hold? Sadly, for too many people from too many places, whether they be Muslim or Mexican, doors are firmly shut and that American dream is denied.
The poison of populism and prejudice is not, however, merely the domain of the right in the US. Across Europe, there is a growing tide of ultra-nationalism that is undermining the values of a way of life that embraces different and diverse peoples, welcoming refugees and respecting their right to make a better life. Cultural diversity is being replaced by the cynicism of self before others. Malek’s win transcends identity politics and race barriers. Full congratulations are due to him for portraying the brilliance of Mercury, a rock icon who was afflicted by personal demons and prejudices. For Mercury, born to Farsi-speaking immigrants forced to relocate to London and following a path to ultimate triumph, there’s a powerful message there for our need to fully embrace all.