Oscars Get Political, As Acceptance Speeches Wade Into Social Issues

At the Academy Awards, many of the big winners were expected — but the ceremony drew energy from their speeches, which addressed a gamut of issues, from equal pay for women to immigration.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Last night in Los Angeles, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - that's the academy that people thank when they're thanking the Academy - announced the winners of the 87th annual Oscar competition. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has been up all night. She's in Los Angeles. Hi, Mandalit.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. Yes, we've been up all night.

INSKEEP: "Birdman" won big, I see.

DEL BARCO: That's right. It flew away with four Academy awards, the best picture winner. It had been filmed to seem like one seamless shot, and that earned its cinematographer, Emmanuel Chivo Lubezki, his second Oscar in a row. He won one last year as well for "Gravity." The writer and director of "Birdman," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, he picked up an award for his screenplay and another as best director. Inarritu is Mexican, and when he spoke, it wasn't only about his movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU: I pray that we can find and build government that will serve. And the ones that live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation. Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: So a little bit of a political message there, and a huge night for "Birdman" - really, a rather unusual film. It really was quite distinctive, and so it walks away with four Oscars. What are some of the other winners?

DEL BARCO: Well, Wes Anderson's quirky comedy, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"...

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

DEL BARCO: ...That movie won four Oscars for its costume design, its makeup, hairstyling, production design and best original score. All the other best picture nominees came away with at least one award. You know, "American Sniper" - it had been the biggest box office draw of the group - it won for best sound editing, but "Whiplash," another film that didn't sell very many tickets in the box office - they picked up - that movie picked up three awards, including one for best supporting actor, J. K. Simmons. Now, in the best actress category, Julianne Moore won for her role as a professor who's coping with early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

INSKEEP: Right.

DEL BARCO: British actor, Eddie Redmayne, got his award for portraying Stephen Hawking, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease.

INSKEEP: And then there's "The Imitation Game."

DEL BARCO: Right, "The Imitation Game." It's the true story of code-breaker and pioneering computer scientist, Alan Turing, who was prosecuted for being a gay man in 1950's England. Graham Moore adapted Turing's biography into a screenplay, and that earned him an Oscar. His acceptance speech was also really very dramatic.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

GRAHAM MOORE: When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong, and now I'm standing here. And so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere - yes, you do. I promise you do - you do - stay weird, stay different, and then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.

(APPLAUSE)

G. MOORE: Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: I think it's good advice for us all, Mandalit. Stay weird.

DEL BARCO: Right. Stay weird. Stay different, yes.

INSKEEP: Now, there's another movie...

DEL BARCO: Everything is awesome, by the way, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Now, there's...

DEL BARCO: That didn't win.

INSKEEP: OK, all right, all right (laughter). There's another movie here that I actually - I think I expected it to do better. "Boyhood" was really quite striking and such an unusual way to make a film.

DEL BARCO: Well, yeah, and that had - "Boyhood," Richard Linklater's coming-of-age movie - that had been a front-runner for a lot of the top awards. I mean, it was always between "Birdman" and "Boyhood" for the best picture. That's what the word had been. But in the end, that film - you know, it took 12 years to make it, but it only won one Academy award for its supporting actress, Patricia Arquette. You know, and backstage and onstage, she talked about a number of issues that are important to her - everything from ecological sanitation in the developing world to equal pay for women.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

PATRICIA ARQUETTE: To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights. It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: You know, I actually - I just thought the film that she made made a statement about women because it was made over 12 years, and you get to watch a woman age on screen and struggle on screen and look ordinary on screen but still look very, very appealing up there.

DEL BARCO: Right, real, real life - the real world (laughter).

INSKEEP: And there was also an examination of the real world in a documentary about Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks.

DEL BARCO: That's right. The documentary was called "Citizenfour," and it featured, you know, Edward Snowden and the U.S. government programs that he revealed - yeah.

INSKEEP: One other thing to ask about, Mandalit del Barco. What do you make of the contentions that there just wasn't a lot of diversity in the Academy Award nominees this year?

DEL BARCO: Well, if you looked at the Academy - if you looked at the nominees, among the acting - in the acting categories, they were all white, you know? That's something that even Neil Patrick Harris joked about in his opening monologue. He said it was the brightest or whitest - what did he say? - something about brightest or whitest Oscars.

You know, there had been some talk about a protest outside the ceremony from some civil rights groups, but reportedly, the director of "Selma," Ava DuVernay, convinced them to begin a dialogue with the Academy instead of protesting. And she would have been the first African-American woman in the best director category. But she was not nominated, and neither was actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. in the movie. And that movie, "Selma," picked up just one award for best song, "Glory." It was performed onstage by Common, John Legend and a large choir.

INSKEEP: Let's listen.

DEL BARCO: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

JOHN LEGEND: (Singing) Oh, glory

CHOIR: (Singing) Glory. Glory.

LEGEND: (Singing) Oh.

CHOIR: (Singing) Glory.

INSKEEP: How did people receive that song, Mandalit del Barco?

DEL BARCO: Oh, standing ovation, tears in the audience. John Legend said the song was relevant for today, where he noted that there were more black men under correctional control than there were slaves in 1850, so he said, people are still marching.

INSKEEP: Quite a ceremony and a number of political messages. Mandalit, thanks very much.

DEL BARCO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mandalit del Barco reporting on the Oscars last night. Let's go out with a little more of that song.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

LEGEND: (Singing) One day when the war is won, we will be sure. We will be sure. Oh, glory - oh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.