A sym­bol­i­cally mo­men­tous blun­der at the Oscars

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS | OPINION - Elvia Díaz Elvia Díaz is a colum­nist for The Ari­zona Republic, where this piece was first pub­lished.

The wildest screw-up in Oscars his­tory couldn’t have been more metaphor­i­cally mo­men­tous for African Amer­i­cans who last year shamed the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sciences for its lack of di­ver­sity.

The crazy fi­nale turned the en­ter­tain­ment world up­side down when La La Land, which had mostly white lead­ing ac­tors, mis­tak­enly was an­nounced as Best Pic­ture. It turned out that

Moon­light, with mostly black ac­tors, had won. It was a stunning mo­ment that em­bod­ied the #Os­carsSoWhite cam­paign last year against the academy.

The scene of white en­ter­tain­ers hand­ing over the fig­urine to African Africans was sim­ply sur­real.

This year’s Oscars stage was re­fresh­ingly di­verse. The win­ners in­cluded Vi­ola Davis, best sup­port­ing ac­tress for Fences; Ma­her­shala Ali of Moon­light, the first Mus­lim to win an Os­car for act­ing; and di­rec­tor Ezra Edel­man, whose OJ: Made in Amer­ica was named best doc­u­men­tary.

African Amer­i­cans and other mi­nori­ties aren’t ask­ing for a give­away. They just want an op­por­tu­nity to play prom­i­nent roles, which gives them the chance to com­pete for an Os­car. And that they got. African Amer­i­cans hyp­no­tized movie­go­ers this year with grip­ping sto­ries that sent them into a whirl­wind of guilt, anger, frus­tra­tion, sad­ness and hope.

One of my fa­vorite films — though it didn’t win an Os­car — was Hid­den Fig­ures, be­cause the coun­try’s chal­lenges in the 1960s par­al­lel those we face in 2017.

Ac­tresses Taraji P. Hen­son, Oc­tavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe en­cap­su­lated the bril­liant math­e­mat­i­cal minds trapped in a racially di­vided na­tion. Th­ese women’s stead­fast de­ter­mi­na­tion in the NASA space race led view­ers into an ex­cru­ci­at­ing trans­for­ma­tion of a work­place filled with prej­u­dice to an up­lift­ing fi­nale.

It took one char­ac­ter, Al Harrison (played by Kevin Cost­ner), to end a seg­re­gated West Area com­put­ers unit of the NASA re­search cen­ter. No one ques­tioned him. No one chal­lenged him.

The life of the bril­liant women was a lot more com­pli­cated than por­trayed in the movie, but view­ers get the point.

Many of the movies with lead­ing African-Amer­i­can ac­tors were al­ready un­der­way when the #Os­carsSoWhite cam­paign ramped up, so it’s hard to tell what kind of progress has been ac­com­plished since. But the Oscars stage is an in­ter­na­tional bully pul­pit to speak up, and folks such as ac­tor Gael Gar­cía Ber­nal used it to call out the White House plans for a bor­der wall with Mex­ico.

“As a Mex­i­can, as a Latin Amer­i­can, as a mi­grant worker, as a hu­man be­ing, I’m against any form of walls that wants to sep­a­rate us,” Gar­cía Ber­nal said.

USA TO­DAY NETWORK

Ali wins best sup­port­ing ac­tor for Moon­light.

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