This year, the Oscars was filled with noteworthy news, from the ethereal sequined gowns to the misreading of La La Land for the Best Picture Award, when it was actually owed to Moonlight. But an achievement greater than the many statuettes handed out was the diversity not only within the room, but on the winners list. It’s hard to believe that only 12 months ago the same event was blanketed with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, in a conversation that saturated the award ceremony.
And while it’s not uncommon for A-listers to use their heavyweight status to bring a social topic into the limelight, this year’s acknowledgments carried a deeper meaning considering the current political climate in the US. From Viola Davis’ touching win (and acceptance speech to match) to Mahershala Ali’s victory for his role in Moonlight, we look at four of the winners that took to the stage and did diversity proud.
Appearing to be the Oscars darling of the evening, 2016 proved to be a big year for Mahershala. And his win as the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar is a massive global milestone, also poignant as he comes from a sect of Islam, Ahmadiyya, facing persecution and violence.
While he did not make any specific mentions of his faith at the Oscars, last month at the Screen Actors Guild Awards Ali talked about his conversion to Islam and what it has taught him. “I think what I’ve learned from working on Moonlight is we see what happens when you persecute people. They fold into themselves. And what I was so grateful about in having the opportunity to play Juan was playing a gentleman who saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community.”
Taking home the prize for the make-up and hair styling behind Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad, Alessandro Bertolazzi, along with Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson, accepted his win by stating: “I’m from Italy, I work around the world,” he said. “This is for all the immigrants.” The Italian-born English make-up artist has worked on many movies, including Skyfall, Fury, and The Impossible, and is considered an expert on Hollywood sets.
Winning her first Oscar for her role for Best Supporting Actress in Fences (if you haven’t seen it, we suggest arming yourself with a full pack of tissues). Viola has also become the first African American woman to receive three Oscar nominations. Her touching speech making the rounds on social media:
You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered, one place and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, ‘What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’ And I say, ‘Exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost.'”
And while her message was far-reaching across many themes of life, it felt especially powerful for the current legislative changes set to be made against gender rights, the LGBTIQ community and immigration laws within the US.
In an act of condemnation against Donald Trump’s travel ban, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi had Iranian-American engineer Anousheh Ansari accept the award on his behalf, reading a prepared statement:
I’m sorry I’m not with you tonight… my absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.”
“Dividing the world into the ‘us and our enemies’ categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression, and war,” Ansari said onstage.