HOLLYWOOD — Hollywood stars turned the stage into a soapbox at the Oscars on Sunday night, advocating on issues ranging from NSA surveillance to equal pay; the Voting Rights Act to immigration reform.
Even before the stars hit the main event, the red carpet was tinged with political protest, with actress Reese Witherspoon taking to Instagram to call for entertainment reporters to ask questions with more depth than the usual, “Who are you wearing?” of female stars.
Gender equity got another star turn with perhaps the most well-received speech of the night, given by Patricia Arquette for her Best Supporting Actress win from “Boyhood.” She called for women to be paid the same as men, a reference to the fact that Congress hasn’t passed the Fair Pay Act, which remains divisive with Republicans.
“To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” Arquette said, reading from prepared text. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
The audience went wild, and gifs of Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez’s delighted responses blew up across social media. Pro-women’s rights groups, including EMILY’s List and the Center for American Progress, along with a handful of Democratic lawmakers, tweeted support.
“.@pattyarquette THANK YOU for using your special moment to stand up for #equalpay for women! Congratulations on your Oscar!” tweeted Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Immigration reform got its moment on stage as well when Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu won Best Director for “Birdman” and cracked a joke about the fact that last year’s Best Director winner, Alfonso Cuaron, was also Mexican.
“Maybe next year the government will inflict immigration restrictions,” he said. “Two Mexicans in a row. That’s suspicious, I guess.”
And the documentary exploring the story of government whistleblower Edward Snowden, “CitizenFour,” nabbed an expected win for Best Documentary. The film’s director, Laura Poitras, was joined on stage by journalist Glenn Greenwald, who also helped interview Snowden for the doc. Poitras praised Snowden and “all the other whistleblowers,” and he, in return, congratulated her through a statement released by the ACLU.
“When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant,” he said. “I’m grateful that I allowed her to persuade me. The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honor and recognition it has received.”
The win prompted a joke from show host Neil Patrick Harris, who quipped, “The subject of ‘Citizenfour,’ Edward Snowden, could not be here tonight for some treason.”
That win was more divisive among political Twitter, with Rep. Justin Amash, a frequent critic of government surveillance programs, showing his approval with a retweet of the news and a tweet linking to an earlier interview he did praising Snowden.
But on the other side of the debate, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker tweeted his displeasure with the win.
“Academy applauds Edward Snowden, who even Sen. Dianne Feinstein says committed ‘an act of treason,'” he tweeted.
The night’s politics didn’t end with Snowden, however. After performing their song “Glory” from the civil rights movement epic “Selma,” John Legend and Common turned their acceptance speech for the song into a political plea, focused on the racial unrest that’s rocked the nation in recent months.
“We say that ‘Selma’ is now, because the struggle for justice is right now,” Legend said. “We know that the voting rights act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justices where we live in the most incarcerated country in the world.”
It was a speech that drew praise from many lawmakers, including Sen. Cory Booker, who tweeted that he was “proud” of the two musicians.
Stars often throw politics into the mix at awards shows, and this year’s Grammys featured an array of political protests peppered throughout the powerhouse performances as well.