Achievement for Immigrants During Academy Awards, but Not Without Controversy

Every year, millions of people around the globe tune in for a night of Hollywood glamour when the Academy Awards air live from Los Angeles, California. The annual ceremony honoring cinematic achievements in the film industry attracts worldwide attention as movie stars walk the red carpet in gowns and tuxedos and compete for the coveted gold statuette. This year’s Academy Awards took place earlier this month, marking the 87th year of the ceremony, and while it featured the usual parade of celebrities, tearful acceptance speeches, and glitzy musical numbers, it was also marked by something else – an unexpected controversy surrounding immigration.

The media firestorm began when actor Sean Penn took to the stage to present the final award of the evening, that of Best Director. Before reading aloud the name of winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the Mexican born director who was nominated for his film Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Penn made a joke about Inarritu’s immigration status, implying that he should not have been given a green card. Although Inarritu himself was quick to note after the ceremony that he and Penn are good friends and that he was not offended by the remark, many viewers felt that the joke was inappropriate, particularly since this year’s group of nominees was criticized for its lack of ethnic diversity in the weeks leading up the awards show. Axel Caballero, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, issued a statement shortly after the ceremony and lamented that, even though it was intended as a friendly joke, Penn’s remark was “an incredibly misplaced, badly timed, public sum up of the 2015 Oscars.” [See Inarritu Says Penn’s Immigration Remark After ‘Birdman’ Win Was A Joke Among Friends, by Anthony McCartney, U.S. News and Word Report, 23.Feb.2015.]

Although Inarritu’s Academy Award win was shadowed by controversy, it should ultimately be viewed as a significant achievement and a promising beacon of change for the immigrant community. His award comes on the heels of last year’s Best Director winner, Alfonso Cuaron, also a Mexican-born immigrant who won for his film Gravity. And while there is still much progress to be made toward achieving cultural diversity in the film industry, the artistic accomplishments of Inarritu and Cuaron are a sign that the immigrant voice is finally beginning to be heard. Innarritu himself summed up the feeling of hope in his acceptance speech, when he dedicated his award to his fellow Mexicans making their homes in the United States: “I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect as the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”


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