This post was originally produced for Forbes.
The Academy Awards are and always have been awarded to social entrepreneurs and impact investors. We haven’t always had those terms available to us and even last night as I watched the award show on ABC, I didn’t hear those terms used.
Still, those who make movies with a social message and those who fund them are social entrepreneurs and impact investors.
Films with social messages will always create controversy, but it is in that controversy that the social mission is achieved. It is in that discussion, that issues are elucidated, and social change occurs—even when it is to the chagrin of others.
Let’s look at the roster of films nominated for best picture this year:
Not having seen The Favourite, I can’t identify a specific social issue in the film but for all the others, social issues are clear.
Winner, Green Book, took on racism and homophobia in a single film. Criticized by some for perpetuating the narrative of a white savior, the film profiles a racist hired by a gay, African American musician who needed a driver and bodyguard for a tour through the south. The winning producers were Jim Burke, Charles B. Wessler, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly—who also directed the film—and Nick Vallelonga.
Black Panther, a classic Marvel superhero film, casts Africa and Africans as the heroes in what many felt was for the first time. With an almost all-black cast, director Ryan Coogler had a dramatic effect in Hollywood. Setting box office records, the film proved international and not just American audiences had been craving such an empowering film. Nominated for a total of six awards, it notched three wins for Best Original Music Score (Ludwig Goransson), Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter) and Best Product Design (Hannah Beachler and Jay R. Hart).
BlackKlansman, Spike Lee’s film, tells the unlikely story of a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, dealing with a range of racial issues social issues. Spike Lee won the award for writing (adapted screenplay) along with Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott. Lee’s impassioned acceptance speech focused on the 2020 election and garnered an angry tweet from President Trump.
Bohemian Rhapsody, winner of four awards, including best actor, Rami Malek; best sound mixing, John Casali, Tim Cavagin and Paul Massey; best film editing, John Ottman and best sound editing, Nina Hartstone and John Warhurst. The film celebrated the band Queen and dealt with the lead singer Freddie Mercury’s sexuality and immigrant heritage. Controversy swirls around director Bryan Singer, whom Malek failed to mention in his acceptance speech.
Roma, which won the award for best foreign language film, is set in 1971 Mexico City and focuses on the life of a maid. Putting the lens on universal class issues, the film has found a wide international audience. The film was directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
A Star is Born, (spoiler alert) the third and many would argue best incarnation of the story as a film, deals with a variety of personal issues and the difficulties of rising and falling fortunes and romance. Starring Lady Gaga and director Bradley Cooper, the film also highlights the impact of alcoholism and suicide. The film fails to confront those issues, however, relegating them to the role of context, like set and props.
Vice is an unconventional biopic about former Vice President Dick Cheney and his ascension to unusual power in the George W. Bush White House. Directed by Adam McKay, the film was nominated for eight awards, but took home only one statue for best makeup (Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney-Le May). Overtly political, the film includes discussion of a variety of social issues, including LGBTQIA rights.
Both Hollywood and independent filmmakers continue to shape the way we view the world, the discussions we have and the decisions we make. Those who make the films truly are social entrepreneurs and those who fund them have earned the moniker impact investor.
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