Editorial: Weighing the validity of boycotts

The Academy Awards is usually a star-studded, joyful event focused on celebrating film, culture, fashion, and celebrities. This year, race was brought to the forefront of the award ceremony after the media highlighted that only white actors were nominated in the top four award categories for the second year in a row.

While the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite exploded on social media in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, the show’s host, comedian Chris Rock, pointed out that this lack of diversity is nothing new. In fact, only in relatively recent history have people of color been nominated at all, leaving the public wondering why the issue only came to prominence in 2016.

In response to this lack of diversity, notable celebrities, including Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Spike Lee, boycotted the Oscars. Similarly, when conservative and often controversial journalist Milo Yiannopoulos spoke at the University on Feb. 25, a petition to boycott the event circulated around social media.

The #OscarsSoWhite is a controversy that would not have garnered as much attention without such loud protests from celebrities. Attention needed to be called to the event in order for substantial change to occur. In addressing the hot-button issue of the night in his monologue, Rock didn’t call the members of the Academy themselves bigots, but pointed out the intrinsic racism in there being a lack of available parts for black actors in Hollywood. On a greater scale, Rock’s comments throughout the night and the presence of social media surrounding the ceremony demonstrate the importance of recognizing that racism is a problem that persists even today.

While Yiannopoulos’s discussion on campus generally did not enrage students as was perhaps anticipated (Associate Provost for Diversity Bridget Newell designated the uphill ELC lawn as a space for protest, although no such protest occurred), the lack of an uproar at the event may have been more powerful. One could even argue that a more potent action would have been to simply not show up to the event, or respectfully and quietly observe from the audience.

While it is undoubtedly important to keep an open mind and be willing to hear opposing views, the Oscars and recent events on campus call into question the effectiveness of different types of protests. If the goal of the Oscars boycott and social media campaign was to draw attention to an injustice, the operation definitely succeeded. Similarly, if students want to enact social change on campus, it is important to recognize differing opinions while providing information with the intention of enlightening the community.

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