The Incredible Oscar Moment Almost Everyone Missed

john-legend-and-common-selma

I missed a lot of the Oscars once they began. I had fun beforehand, tweeting about the #AskHerMore campaign (as in, ask her more than who she’s wearing and how she got thin) while celebrities were interviewed on the Red Carpet, but once the show started, I got distracted. Life. Kids. Lackluster Neil Patrick Harris material. I figured, like always, I’d find out the next day about the memorable moments.

Boy, did I ever. Between Patricia Arquette’s inability to quit while she was ahead and Melanie Griffith’s and Dakota Johnson’s painful Red Carpet interview, it was enough to make this tough Brooklyn girl shrivel up and rock in the fetal position for the day. I was relieved to have something inspiring to watch with John Legend’s and Common’s performance of “Glory.” In between wading through the other controversies I mentioned, I found people speaking so highly of the Legend/Common performance,  and I couldn’t wait to see it. Please take a few moments to watch it, also, if you haven’t already.

Upon the first viewing, I was blown away by the power of the scenery, the imagery, of Common crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge (named after a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan) and the multi-ethnic chorus falling into step behind him. But I also noticed something that I wasn’t sure I really saw. A second time through watching, though, confirmed it.

The chorus was made up of both People of Color and white people. The white people, however, weren’t singing. They simply marched in step, and side by side with the Black people on the stage. The only voices we heard were the voices of POC. White people showed UP. They walked. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder. They marched. And they let the people of color do the talking. They stood silently so Black voices could be heard. What a brilliant piece of staging that should really resonate, I thought.

In reading more about the performance, I wondered why I saw no mention of it. I looked on the Twitter and saw nothing, so I tweeted about it myself. I looked on Facebook and saw nothing, so I posted about it myself. I read articles about the performance from Vulture and BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post and saw no mention of this aspect of the staging.

Later in the show, “Glory” won for Best Song, and Legend and Common paired up again to utter some of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking words in an acceptance speech.

John Legend quoted Nina Simone, saying “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” The times in which we live are better in many ways, but still racially charged, to say the least. Too many people of color are still suffering the devastating effects of racism in this country, and too many white people are denying racism is even a thing anymore. Too many people of color still feel the need to justify their pain, and too many white people attempt to invalidate it with non-apologies and “BLACK PRESIDENT,” so “racism is DEAD!” (Thanks, Obama.) Too many people of color are crying out for justice and too many white people are just talking right over them. So, considering this context, it makes perfect sense that the white chorus members didn’t sing. The optics of them singing about the glory being theirs wouldn’t sit well. It shouldn’t sit well.

“The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status…This bridge was built on hope. Welded with compassion. And elevated by love for all human beings.” Common’s speech was poetry. He encapsulated so beautifully the need for intersectionality in calls for justice in one sentence. The emotion in his voice spoke volumes about how desperate this need is.

When people like John Legend and Common speak, we should listen. In that incredibly subtle piece of staging in that performance of “Glory,” they were telling us exactly what is needed.

And no one noticed.

Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work also appears in Purple Clover, and before that, in Catonsville Patch and Kveller. She has been featured in the Community Spotlight section of Daily Kos under the username “Horque.” Her piece for The Broad Side, Leaving Gender at the Door, was chosen as a BlogHer Voice of the Year in 2013. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites.

To schedule an interview with Aliza or to talk with her about a speaking engagement, contact her at alizaworthington@gmail.com.

  • Leslie F. Miller

    If you are the only person who noticed this, it’s an amazing thing to notice. (Even if you’re not.) That’s a keen eye. And I think you are right; it’s really powerful and much different from what I had imagined.

    • Aliza Worthington

      I was even more blown away by their speeches. Hard not to love both of these talented men. :)

  • Nicole Chase

    Oh my gosh. Thank you for pointing this out. I’d missed it too. Wow.

  • Holly Rosen Fink

    I spotted this, too. I felt like Common and John Legend kicked the Oscars in the face with their performance and their speech. Selma was snubbed in so many ways and it was way more important than Birdman or The Grand Budapest Hotel.

    • Aliza Worthington

      I love how you phrased that, Holly – but Common and Legend are too elegant to kick them in the face. I picture more them lifting up the Oscars by the lapels, shaking them, putting the Oscars down on the ground again, and telling them to do better next time.

    • Really?

      I have not seen any of these three movies so I have no horse in this race. I would just like to say that an important movie can be important without being the best achievement in filmmaking of a given year.

  • nugglemama

    I noticed, but the signifacance was lost on me until you pointed it out. Thank you.

  • Diane

    Totally missed it! Thank you for pointing this out. It made the performance just that much more powerful!

  • theheartsleeves

    I noticed the hell out of it. I was very moved.

  • Nique Eagen

    I actually noticed that too. I was wondering why they weren’t singing and waiting for them to start. As a Black woman, the reason should have occurred to me. smh

  • Neelamjit Dhillon

    Point of clarification – the chorus that sang was made up of only POC but note that NONE of the marchers sang (both white and black). Those that sang were most likely an established choir and the marchers were probably dancers. Regardless, the symbolism is still powerful.

    • Jenn Tsang

      This is a very important clarfying point… it changes the entire premise of “I can’t believe I didn’t see anyone report on this aspect.” Also, while I understand making bold statements is a necessity when talking about social justice, in my opinion, I’m not sure this is the right statement to be bold about. I personally believe silencing one group so another can be heard, is neither equality nor justice. I don’t believe in taking things away, but in giving more and giving equally, so all voices can share one mic. On a related note, this really struck me as bothersome, so I put my Sherlock hat on. I found a video of the performance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgDTvj3W87M) and you can clearly see POC and white people not singing at both 3:53 and 4:18, providing fairly solid evidence for Neelamjit’s clarifying comment.

      • Roy

        Most of the people in the crowd that are not singing are the dancers that appeared in the opening number and in ‘Everything is Awesome’. You can clearly see Ryan Steele and Alex Wong among them, for instance.

  • Anita

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful, powerful observation. I am so grateful for these performers and this message.

  • http://batman-news.com ChynnaBlue

    Yeah, at 3:22 there are several people seen over John Legend’s shoulder and one woman behind the the woman with the red hair. None of them are singing and two are people of color. The choir took the first few rows and the people in the back didn’t sing.

  • http://www.relationshipsmatternow.com Denise W. Barreto

    Hey. I love you, I’ve seen you Kelly Wickham’s strings a bunch. You nailed it. Thank you.

    • Aliza Worthington

      Aw! I love you, too! And, thanks. <3

  • Emma Klues

    I noticed it and appreciated it, but didn’t take to social media to talk about it. Wouldn’t that have been a bit ironic anyway? 😉

  • Rachel Dangermond

    I noticed it too and like others here did not think I was the only one – thanks for amplifying it though.

  • HappyCat

    So that is what equality looks like – silent and silenced folks of one color while another color sings. Yeah that is really something to cheer for.

    • Tim Trussell-Smith

      No it definitely isn’t. And that is exactly why white people like me need to intentionally allow space for people of color to speak because their voices are hardly ever heard in the public space – except in the most extreme circumstances. Instead of being allowed to tell their story we only listen when black people and other people of color finally scream. Then we say, “see how oversensitive and dramatic they are.”

      For the glory to finally arrive, all voices will have to be heard. But we ain’t there yet. Nice job demonstrating white sensitivity, though.

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