Oscar fever is upon us in all of its gilded glory! If you’re a fan of the Academy Awards, you probably know the big event is coming this Sunday, February 24th. It’s no secret that Oscar likes to reward the serious stuff, and a look at past winners shows that the gold statue often goes to films (and characters) with hearts of gold. So in the spirit of the Oscars, let’s look back at a few films that have taken home the trophy—while shining the glittery lights of Tinseltown on some very important social issues.
Erin Brockovich (2000): Julia Roberts has played some pretty universally loved characters, but perhaps none moreso than the fiery Erin Brockovich. It’s the ultimate underdog story of the “little guys” battling a corporate giant, and tackling life-and-death issues while doing it. Erin Brockovich takes on chemical waste, greed and cancer—and makes us laugh while doing it. The fact that it’s based on a true story makes it all the more amazing to watch. Never seen it, or need a reminder of why you should watch it again? Watch the trailer here. (Our favorite line? “They’re called boobs, Ed.”)
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (2009): Gabourey Sidibe scored an Oscar nomination for her performance in this both tragic and hopeful film, and Mo’Nique won a statue for her fearless portrayal of the lead character’s hard-to-watch mother. It’s difficult to think of a social issue the movie doesn’t address—from poverty to abuse to racism to education.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Undoubtedly one for the record books, this controversial film remains one of only three movies to sweep the four major Oscar categories (Picture, Actor, Actress and Director). While it’s ultimately a tragic film, it gives us plenty of laughs from Best Actor winner Jack Nicholson—and plenty of chills from Best Actress Louise Fletcher. Why so important? It brought attention to the state of mental health and the treatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals (a topic that remains timely given the current national conversations about mental health).
Ghandi (1982): This epic biographical film won Best Picture, and Ben Kingsley won Best Actor for playing Indian lawyer and activist Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Ghandi inspired the world by leading the nation’s non-violent movement against the United Kingdom’s rule over India during the 20th century. Though the movie was made over three decades ago, it remains relevant today with its attention to religious tolerance, equality and most of all…peace.
The Hurt Locker (2009): At first glance, this Best Picture winner is an edge-of-your-seat suspense movie. But it’s more than that—it also provides a gritty image of the life of soldiers during the Iraq War, as well as the difficult process they undergo when returning to their lives at home. Bonus points for its director, Kathryn Bigelow, who became the first woman in Oscar history to win Best Director.
Norma Rae (1979): 2013 Oscar nominee Sally Field won her first Academy Award for embodying some serious girl-power. In the flick, she portrays the title character who works in a factory in a rural North Carolina town and becomes a leader among her fellow workers fighting for unionization. Her acceptance speech also spawned the popular catchphrase, “You like me! You really like me!”
We like all of these important films and the awareness they brought to issues that truly deserve the spotlight.
What did we miss? What’s a movie (Oscar winner or not) that inspired you and tackled an important issue?
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