When members of the movie industry gathered on February 24 at the Dolby Theatre for the 91st Academy Awards, they came together to honour the outstanding achievements of cinema from 2018. While there’s no question that the Oscars are about spectacle, from great dresses and suits to memorable speeches, there’s another reason the ceremony is the object of such intense public passions. In celebrating the best movies of a given year and the people whose hard work made those movies possible, the Oscars can be a celebration of what’s best about a certain idea of America.
First and foremost, the movies the Oscars celebrate are about seeking out new ways to see the world. Ask any producer, any writer, any director, any actor, and he or she will tell you that the heart of moviemaking, our purpose and our passion, is all about perspective. We’re not growing if we aren’t gaining new perspective. Our art is more alive and our industry more innovative when we widen the lens more and more.
During my tenure as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I worked to make sure the Academy benefited from that wider lens by inviting a more diverse group of members and electing a more representative board of governors. Those new members are now helping to select the Oscar nominees and winners. In 2019, the movies they nominated for best picture take viewers to, among other places, the Afrofuturist fictional kingdom of Wakanda and to Colorado Springs in the 1970s; to Mexico City in 1970-1971 and to Britain in the early 1700s. Our audiences and the stories we tell are global and rich in diversity. Every facet of our industry should be as well.
Second, the Oscars demonstrate what we all have to gain when people around the world are allowed to use their talents to tell stories in the United States. The remarkable global diversity of writers, directors, producers and actors reads more like the roll call at the United Nations than anything we could have imagined last century, and that is a wonderful thing. The nominees for best director alone hailed from Mexico, Poland and Greece, as well as from the US. This year’s award season showed unprecedented inclusion of talent in front of as well as behind the camera.
A coherent whole
Filmmakers and moviegoers alike are enriched by the cross-pollination that results from sharing stories, ideas, production techniques and talent with artists from diverse backgrounds, nations and cultures. The Academy Awards are a celebration of that kind of collaborative work, highlighting the contributions of not only the industry’s most famous directors and actors but also the writers who put words in their mouths; the designers who build their worlds and conjure up their clothes, hair and make-up; and the editors, sound mixers and visual effects artists who turn everyone’s work into a coherent whole. The Oscars are a valuable reminder that we can’t tell stories or pull off ambitious productions alone.
And most of all, the Oscars can provide a critically important reminder of the values we have in common. We all respond to art, creativity, conscience, conviction and the simple act of telling your story and hoping that someone, somewhere — whether watching in a darkened movie theatre or on a computer screen — will see his or her own reflection in your vision. That is what our industry — and really, what being human — is all about.
Art has no borders. Art has no single language, and art does not belong to a single faith. At its most powerful, art transcends all these things that divide us. Creative artists around the world are connected by an unbreakable bond that is powerful and permanent. And so are the audiences who love their movies. That connection is worth celebrating, during the Oscars and throughout the year.
— Washington Post
Cheryl Boone Isaacs served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 2013 to 2017.