The Oscars have always fascinated me. I love the fashion, the lights, the overall idea of a giant production produced for actors. It’s such a high standard to hit. Especially with the lineup of amazing movies year after year. As an actor who’s participated in a full length movie, it’s fun to know the entire process it takes just to even be considered for one of those golden men. Whether you’re seasoned or totally clueless, I think everyone who’s ever had their feet wet in the industry dreams of that golden glory at least once in their career.
We talk about media and its portrayal of sexual assault in our articles. Sexual assault is dramatic and prevalent and can add a new kind of depth into a piece. Chances are that by portraying a sexual assault in a movie, 4.2 million Americans may see a piece of their own story somewhere on that screen.
It’s not often, however, that this performance will be discussed by those around them. Movies are fine showing them, but journalists never ask questions about these scenes on the red carpet. Somehow along the way, we’ve given the idea that we can watch sexual assaults, we just can’t talk about them. Actors have easily given you the name of their designer or discussed their latest action flick. They will eagerly divulge their diet and exercise routine to prepare for their roles. But somehow, being able to talk about experiences that real people have faced every 107 seconds is an issue that goes way deeper than the thin red carpet.
That was, until the 88th Academy Awards.
Singer/songwriter Lady Gaga stepped onto the carpet before the awards show. When asked about her performance that night, she immediately called attention to the song she had chosen. “Till it Happens to You,” a single from the soundtrack of Oscar Nominee The Hunting Ground, was a song Gaga had written about her own personal experience. Amongst light hearted questions, Gaga intentionally told her story of surviving sexual abuse.
Inside the Dolby theatre a few minutes after, actor Mark Ruffalo spoke on his movie, Spotlight. Focusing on the journalists who worked to expose sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Spotlight was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Male Actor and Best Picture. Ruffalo had just gotten back from a rally that day with Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
In the interview, he spoke on how many survivors’ stories he received after the movie. He commended survivors for telling their stories, and said “storytelling leads to healing”. Ruffalo’s testimony provides a call to action for all of us to report on behalf of victims who cannot report for themselves, to listen to their stories, to stand beside them.
An hour later, Ruffalo saw confirmation in his message as vice president Joe Biden stood on the stage and called upon every viewer to “change the culture” of sexual assault. “Let’s change the culture so that no abused woman or man.. ever feels like they have to ask ‘what did I do wrong?’ They did nothing wrong.’”
He stepped away and revealed Lady Gaga, who began to cry as she sang “Till it Happens to You.”
You tell me “it gets better, it gets better,
You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together
“You’ll be fine”
Tell me what the hell do you know,
What do you know,
Tell me how the hell could you know
Till it happens to you
You won’t know
As she sang louder and more powerfully, several sexual assault survivors stepped onto the stage. They had words written on their arms such as “SURVIVOR”, “NOT ALONE”, and “YOU ARE LOVE.” Gaga stood with them as she finished the song. Everyone raised their arms in solidarity. The entire audience stood and applauded. Actress Brie Larson stood at the end of the stage and hugged every single survivor as they exited. Every single one.
1 in 3 women. 1 in 6 men. These statistics have been drilled into me as an advocate for sexual abuse survivors. As the camera panned the crowd at the Dolby Theatre, I knew we were amongst so many survivors in that room and watching at home. Everyone was encouraged to take the #ItsOnUs pledge.
Several stars reached out on social media to extend their support, including a survivor who has recently suffered a great loss in her own public battle against her abuser.
Hollywood has a different kind of sparkle, but it’s not immune to sexual assault or its after effects. Now, thanks to the Academy Awards, it has also proven it is not blind to it either.
Spotlight took home best picture. Larson won Best Actress for Room, a story about a woman who is kidnapped and sexually abused for five years. Gaga celebrated her powerhouse performance in the arms of her supporters.
The work we do is not glamorous. It is grueling, often thankless work. I am always grateful to get to work for A Voice for the Innocent and be an advocate for those who need it most, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes I get a little overwhelmed. Last night, we all won at The Academy Awards. We all got our golden moment to call attention to an issue that is so under looked. A community of support, love, and validation was built around one night that is usually considered an escape from every day horrors. Like Biden said, it’s going to take a group effort to effect culture change. Last night proved we can do it.