Henry A. Brechter
As has become the norm, a recent Hollywood award show ignited a partisan divide in reactions and news coverage from throughout the political spectrum. But buried under the hyperpolarized noise was a positive theme that many people missed — a call to find common ground.
Two key award winners at the 92nd Academy Awards on Feb. 9 used their acceptance speeches to encourage unity and camaraderie as a country — an encouraging sentiment to hear from socially influential figures. Yet, this theme was largely ignored in media coverage, while stories about which actor criticized which politician or the $225,000 “swag bags” given out to attendees topped headlines.
Renee Zellweger and Joaquin Phoenix, who each won an Oscar for lead acting roles, took time on stage to preach the importance of inclusion and civility.
“(Our heroes) unite us,” said Zellweger, accepting the award for her role as Judy Garland in “Judy.” “When we look to our heroes, we agree, and that matters. Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride, Dolores Huerta, Venus and Serena and Selena, Bob Dylan, Scorsese, Fred Rogers, Harriet Tubman. … When we celebrate our heroes, we’re reminded of who we are as one people united.”
‘Voice for the voiceless’
“(We have to) continue to use our voice for the voiceless,” said Phoenix, after winning for his role in “Joker.” “I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the distressing issues that we are facing collectively. I think at times we feel, or were made to feel, that we champion different causes, but for me, I see commonality. I think, whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice.”
Unification through shared heroes. Commonality. An all-encompassing fight against injustice. Where are the calls for these resounding, transcendent themes being celebrated in headlines or in the spotlight? Do people really just care about actors taking shots at elected officials?
Call for civility are ignored
As increasing political polarization continues to threaten our democracy, reminders of our commonalities are precisely what Americans need to hear now. It’s baffling, then, that these calls for civility, made during one of the most star-studded, glorified and lime-lighted events on the U.S. calendar, received little media attention. (Phoenix’s calls for equality were the subject of a CNN entertainment piece, while both his and Zellweger’s speeches were satirically analyzed in an article from Vulture.)
Maybe it’s due in part to widespread infatuation with animosity and partisanship in media, or maybe Americans have become so accustomed to highlighting what divides us that positive societal developments seem less newsworthy. Whatever the case, Zellweger and Phoenix — two of the entertainment world’s biggest stars — took time on one of the country’s biggest stages to call for unity instead of making selfish plugs or chirping their foes, and yet, many Americans didn’t hear about it.
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A mass media that often seems eager to acknowledge extreme polarization largely missed a chance to cover the exact opposite. But in thinking and speaking inclusively before a national audience, powerful voices bought into the value of common ground. That’s a positive message all Americans can get behind.