The 87th annual Academy Awards were full of the usual glitz and glamor, but an evening of impassioned speeches and inspiring personalities offered words of wisdom even for the average layperson. The Oscars is a night in which Hollywood celebrates itself, so sometimes it’s easy to forget that behind the bright lights and spectacle are thousands of hard-working professionals. It is the efforts of these women and men—whether they are actors, writers, costume designers or crewmembers—that produce the films that the rest of us get to enjoy. And while most of us are not on track to become Hollywood insiders, Sunday’s ceremony offered some takeaways about the journey to success, no matter what your career path.
In a year where female leads and directors were looked over in many of the nomination categories, Patricia Arquette drew attention to wage equality in her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress in the movie “Boyhood.” In accepting the award for Best Song in “Selma” along with hip-hop artist Common, John Legend spoke of the high incarceration rate of black men and the importance of preserving the Voting Rights Act. His message, in other words: the struggle depicted in “Selma” is far from over. Alejandro Inarritu, who spoke of immigrants’ rights, and Julianne Moore, who drew attention to the search for an Alzheimer’s cure, were among other artists whose stellar work has clearly been inspired by their devotion to social and political change.
When Graham Moore accepted the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Imitation Game,” he delivered a powerful message that went beyond the usual roster of thank-you’s: "I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I'm standing here," he said. "I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. 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 along." Knowing your authentic self, and sticking to it, will produce the most powerful and genuine work.
J.K. Simmons won the Best Supporting Actor award for his performance in “Whiplash,” and after thanking and praising his wife and children for their enduring support, he advised viewers: “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 them you love them you love them, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.” His speech was a reminder that success often requires sacrifice from loved ones, and that we should never forget to show our gratitude to those who support us while we pursue our dreams.
Looks may be everything in Hollywood, but they carry huge weight everywhere else too. Did J-Lo sit front and center at this year’s Oscars because of her amazing acting in “The Boy Next Door” or because her plunging necklines have made her a fashion staple on the red carpet? (That's a rhetorical question.) Talent will get you far, but a polished or signature look--depending on what is appropriate to your profession; I’m not advising J-Lo cleavage for all--can make all the difference in the impression you make in that job interview, audition or board meeting. (This advice applies to women AND men equally, even though Oscar gowns are undeniably more fun to look at than tuxes.)
In an effort to redeem last year’s epic screw-up in which John Travolta mistakenly introduced singer Idina Menzel by the name “Adele Dazeem” for no apparent reason, Travolta and Menzel appeared onstage together to present this year’s award for Best Original Song. Travolta said Menzel’s name accurately, there were some jokes, and all was good… until he started awkwardly touching her chin, again for no apparent reason. So now we just have another ridiculous Travolta move to make fun of. But one thing is certain: both stars will have a good sense of humor about this yet again peculiar moment, as they clearly do about last year’s. The take-away? Don’t take yourself too seriously... laughing at yourself once in awhile will diffuse stress and help you put even the most tense situations in perspective.