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The Oscars: The Humanitarian Red Carpet

by Won Kim and Laura Touysinhthiphonexay

The Oscars are all about the Hollywood royalty, the red carpet, the glitz, the glamour, but this year, there was something in the air at the Academy Awards. Our favorite stars, the greatest writers, the most talented composers, and some unexpected new faces all came to the ceremony ready to use their precious seconds in the spotlight for a cause. Oscar winners from every level of notoriety took the opportunity to speak on behalf of a cause close to their heart, a la Patricia Arquette, or to continue the conversation initiated by their film as Common and John Legend did. An especially surprising instance of this inspired promotion came from Oscar newcomer Graham Moore. In an unplanned, but perfectly timed, speech, Moore spoke on behalf of the subject of his work, Alan Turing. A profoundly personal moment, he told the story of his own suicide attempt and encouraged others to stay weird, stay different, and they too would find their stage.

Even actors and artists who did not have the opportunity to speak on stage seemed to share the belief that the Oscars could mean something more. The fashion at the Awards was markedly different from years past. Best-dressed actresses wore classic silhouettes in solid, old-Hollywood glamour reds, whites, and blacks. Even show-stopping Lady Gaga opted for a simpler monochromatic gown with popping red gloves. These choices reflected a less superficial, more thoughtful philosophy.

The Oscar attendees all seemed to have a common desire of focusing the show on more substantial topics. This desire was no doubt fueled by the overwhelming amount of expository and inspirational social good themed work presented at this year’s Awards. Films like Selma, the Imitation Game, Still Alice, and the Theory of Everything are beautifully crafted, entertaining pieces that carry strong messages of awareness and need for change. These films have been in the works for years through the screenwriting, casting, and production process, proof that this theme, although surfacing now, has been bubbling up for much longer.

Brands that anticipated this trend, and used it to inform Oscar advertising and social content caught attention and won acclaim. Comcast ran a stirring 60-second ad that featured what a visually impaired 7-year-old girl imagines when describing “The Wizard of Oz.” The ad showcased xfinity’s new “talking guide” product that will help people with disabilities enjoy entertainment in a brand new way. American Express’s “Journey Never Stops” campaign showcases the stories of four people  (Aretha Franklin, Mindy Kaling, GoPro’s Nick Woodman and chef Natalie Young) who overcame incredible adversity to arrive at success. The brands told stories that not only entertained, but relayed powerful humanitarian messages. The placements felt natural and encouraged viewer engagement. The other more typical commercials, although humorous, seemed incongruous and the brands felt out of touch.

The bottom line is that people are hungry for humanity. We are passionate about social justice and curious about the causes that need awareness. While we love the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, we want stories that matter and we still want to see the best and brightest telling them. Our brands and our work need to reflect that desire as well. Our storytelling needs artistry, depth and purpose, and above all the beauty of humanity. How will you tell your story?