And The Award Goes To... Civil Liberties

The Academy Awards and civil liberties don’t always go hand in hand, but at last night’s ceremony there were a few surprising moments of synergy between Hollywood and the issues we deal with every day at the ACLU.

First, with the awards themselves, the winner of “Best Documentary Feature” was CITIZENFOUR, a behind-the-scenes account of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing and the events that followed his decision to reveal the extent of American surveillance tactics. We’ve screened this film here in Maine and are delighted that it has earned an Academy Award.

The ACLU represents Snowden, and after CITIZENFOUR was crowned we helped him release the following statement: “When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant. I’m grateful that I allowed her to persuade me. The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honor and recognition it has received. My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”

CITIZENFOUR’s triumph alone would have made for a good civil liberties night, but then we got some great acceptance speeches with multiple references to a variety of important issues:

Patricia Arquette, winner of the best supporting actress award for her role in Boyhood, championed women’s rights and pay equity: “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s time to have wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.” You can find more about these issues and what the ACLU’s doing about them on the women’s rights page of our national website.

Graham Moore, who won the best screenplay award for The Immitation Game, made a passionate plea for acceptance, weaving a personal challenge into an uplifting message about the importance of being true to yourself: "I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I'm standing here. 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." We helped write and pass an aggressive anti-bullying law here in Maine that protects students at school and ensures that LGBT youth – who are bullied at far higher rates than others – are allowed to be themselves and safe at the same time. You can find more information about the law and what to do if you’re bullied by checking out our “No Bullying” page.

John Legend and Common, who took home the Oscar for best song with "Glory," referenced several civil rights issues in their speech. Their song appeared in Selma, and by referencing mass incarceration and voting rights they made clear that the fight for racial justice did not end in the 1960s. Legend said “we know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today...Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now.” If you agree, take a moment and sign our petition calling on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015.

Finally, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won the distinction for best director and best film for Birdman, had this to say about immigration: "I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country, who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation." For more information on how the ACLU is working for the rights of aspiring Americans, check out this page on protecting the rights of immigrants.

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