I remember climbing up the stairs to the stage and it was like I had Gollum in my head . . . one voice is going, Precious Oscar, be nice, don’t start any trouble, just thank your agent and your stylist and leave the stage. And the other voice is going No, no, you have a responsibility, there’s a war going on, you must say something.
—Michael Moore, on winning Best Documentary
To whom much is given much is required. And the fact that we have an opportunity to get to a stage like the Oscars, I mean how could you not say anything?
—Common, on winning Best Original Song
Great movies have something to say about the world. And the artists who make them, each with their own stories, don’t fall silent when the screen goes dark. As the 87th Academy Awards confirmed, some of Hollywood’s best performances are unscripted.
This year’s Oscar winners did more than thank their moms, dads, agents, and stylists. From democracy and discrimination to Alzheimer’s and ALS, artists leveraged their brief moments in the spotlight to talk about meaningful issues. Their heartfelt speeches put concerns greater than ego center stage and raised the bar for everyone.
Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash
“Call your mom, call your dad. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call ‘em. Don’t text. Don’t email. Call them on the phone. Tell ‘em you love ‘em, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.”
Director of Ida, Best Foreign Language Film
“We made a film about—as you saw, black and white—about the need for silence and withdrawal from the world and contemplation. And here we are at this epicenter of noise and world attention.”
Best Documentary Short Subject for Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
“I want to dedicate this to my son Evan Perry. We lost him to suicide. We should talk about suicide out loud. This is for him.”
Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood
“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Best Documentary Feature for Citizenfour
“The most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret. We lose our ability to check the powers that control. Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage and for the many other whistleblowers.”
John Stephens, aka John Legend
Best Original Song for “Glory” from Selma
“Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now. . . . We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on.”
Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game
“When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here and, so, I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do. You do. Stay weird. Stay different. And then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.”
Best Actor for The Theory of Everything
“This Oscar, this belongs to all of those people around the world battling ALS. It belongs to one exceptional family: Stephen, Jane, Jonathan and the Hawking children.”
Best Actress for Still Alice
“I’m so happy—I’m thrilled actually that we were able to hopefully shine a light on Alzheimer’s disease. So many people with this disease feel isolated and marginalized and one of the wonderful things about movies is it makes us feel seen and not alone. And people with Alzheimer’s deserve to be seen, so that we can find a cure.”
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
“I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans. The ones who live in Mexico, I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and build this incredible immigrant nation.”
If you had a microphone, a spotlight, and thirty seconds before an audience of 37 million people in over 100 countries, what would you say? Would you talk about freedom, compassion, equality, or power? It takes courage and character to stand up for what you believe in.
Whose attention do you command in smaller circles every day? We all wield more influence than we realize. When you open your mouth to speak, what more could you say about the things that matter to you?
What are you waiting for?