WASHINGTON, DC – While in Hollywood the Oscars seemed to be taking baby steps to try to celebrate the diversity of this country and the world, here in Washington–aka “Hollywood for ugly people”–all attention is on the wall that our president insists on building along the border with Mexico, a symbol of division, ostracism, and prejudice right here in the 21st century.
I don’t always watch the Oscars ceremony, but I did this year because one of the nominated films, Bohemian Rhapsody, celebrates the musical genius of the Brit Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band Queen, and my favorite singer, musician, and songwriter of all times. (Although we should note that the film barely makes reference to the fact that Mercury was also an immigrant, or to his sexuality and the fact that he contracted HIV at a time when the illness was considered a death sentence, and that he ultimately died of pneumonia complicated by AIDS).
Migration was a recurrent theme throughout the evening, as were the topics of inclusion, racial tolerance, tolerance of sexual diversity, acknowledgement of the strength of women, and–as said by the winner of the Oscar for Best Director, Alfonso Cuarón, for his film Roma–gratitude to the “invisible people” who have positively impacted all of our lives. The Spanish chef José Andrés did so as well, saying that we have to make a tribute to “the invisible people in our lives,” especially “the immigrants and women who move humanity forward.”
Rami Malek, the U.S. actor who won the Oscar for Best Actor for giving life to Mercury, also alluded to the subject when he said: “I am the son of immigrants from Egypt. I’m first-generation American, and part of my story is being written right now.”
I do not know if the winning movies and the winners speeches have moved the needle on the thorny topics they are circling. For example, I don’t know if the film Roma will have any long-term effect on ensuring the fair and humanitarian treatment of the millions of domestic workers in Mexico and across the world, who are abused and exploited mercilessly on a daily basis. Or if the nomination of Yalitza Aparicio for Best Actress in her role as Cleo in Roma, the first indigenous woman to be nominated in the history of the Oscars, will have any larger consequence than the debate unleashed in social media between those who celebrated her nomination and those detractors who are keeping the racism, classism, and prejudice that plagues our Latin American countries, and the world, alive.
Or if the nominated films that tackle themes of racism and racial tensions in this country will contribute to a useful and effective dialogue about these subjects, one that goes beyond a speech after winning an award.
I want to think so. That at least a seed of tolerance has been sown that, little by little, will germinate. And I want to think so, because this is the only way to confront the demons of division, intolerance, and racism that walk underneath us: those demons that we thought were under control, but have been liberated by the promoters of prejudice via public policy, for example, in the form of a wall.
That’s why we have have to follow the advice of the African-American director Spike Lee, who finally won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his film BlacKkKlansman: “The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing.”
Yes. Let’s do the right thing for ourselves and for the “invisible” ones.
Maribel Hastings is a senior advisor at America’s Voice