Following the recent celebratory practice of loving yourself as who you are along with a number of progressive social movements, major award ceremonies have developed as the perfect platform to not only reflect positive changes in society, but also to actively call for action against a number of controversies.
Previously, politically or socially active celebrities had spoken about discrimination against women in terms of sexual harassment, limited educational opportunities for women and so on. However, more recently, these ceremonies are not only raising awareness about such deeply rooted issues of women’s rights, but also workplace inequality and the pay gap that women of color and transgenders face in the television industry.
The MTV Video Music Awards in 2017 sparked the beginning of an important phase in the gender rights movement of the television industry, as it was the first to drop gender specific award categories. The same year, Emma Watson became the first to win a gender-neutral MTV award for Best Movie Performance, stating in her speech that “with acting, you put yourself in someone else’s shoes…The only distinction should be between each outstanding performance.”
More recently, the 2019 Emmy Awards has once again called attention to these issues. Patricia Arquette, who was awarded Best Supporting Actress in Limited Series, spoke about the rights of transgender people in her acceptance speech. Mourning her later sister Alexis Arquette who was an actor and transgender activist, she used her Emmy win to bring awareness to issues facing the LGBTQ community. “Until we change the world, until trans people are not persecuted… Let’s get rid of this bias that we have everywhere.”
In addition, Laverne Cox, a transgender actress renowned for her advocacy to move beyond gender roles, was recently nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series at the 2019 Emmys. In her interview at the ceremony, she brought to light a Supreme Court legal battle deciding whether federal non-discrimination employment laws will apply to LGBTQ people, stating that “when I got my Emmy nomination this year, my third one…I thought, there has to be a bigger reason…maybe it’s about this case and maybe it’s about raising awareness so that everyone knows our lives are in danger.”
For a successful social movement to happen, there needs to be awareness to mobilize resources, a common goal, and dedicated individuals. In this sense, major award ceremonies are important because of their leverage and access to platforms. They help people to empathize with the social movement as they realize that celebrities have also fallen victim to discrimination just as anyone else. As celebrities are people many admire and look up to, this adds more weight to the problem in the eyes of public, helping the narrative of discrimination to be more persuasive. It sends the message that discrimination does not happen because of one’s unprivileged socioeconomic background, but that it is an epidemic problem of society that can happen to anyone—even those who are seemingly privileged, high-profile public figures.
Also, through more media coverage, the actions of celebrities bring the problem up to the surface and instigate discourse. Even if people heavily criticize a celebrity’s controversial statement on gender rights, this can rather have a positive effect in that it opens up more ground for debate and exchange of opinions. Through this process, people are no longer trapped in their echo chamber of unopposed beliefs, but rather gain an opportunity to check and balance their ideas.
Actress Michelle Williams, who won the 2019 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, used her acceptance speech to discuss the gender pay gap in Hollywood and empowerment of women. “I want to say thank you so much to FX and to Fox 21 Studios for supporting me completely and for paying me equally, because they understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value.”
Our world is far from eradicating discrimination against socially marginalized groups. Even in Korea, there are several well-known online communities that endorse extreme bias and patronization of different gender groups, breeding a toxic divide within the public.
However, the world is slowly and meaningfully making progress toward equality: consider the increasing women’s legal rights in developing countries, legal reforms for domestic violence, workplace sexual harassment policies, legalization of same-sex marriage, and much more happening around the globe. Accordingly, many students in UIC have shown interest in learning about how gender conflicts and inequality issues are reflected in media. Yonsei University also provides careful measures to prevent any discrimination based on gender in class performance and have set up official sexual harassment prevention and awareness centers. Through more innovative ways to address the global issue of gender rights beyond these programs, there are hopes to accelerate structural change for our society.