Sunday night, beloved celebrities took to the red carpet for the Academy Awards. Chris Rock hosted and provided laughs and jokes that criticized the Academy and the lack of people of color as nominees. He also let his daughters sell Girl Scout cookies to the audience. It was a fun night filled with excitement and historical moments (shoutout to Leonardo for finally receiving an Oscar).
The moment I want to focus on is my girl, Lady Gaga’s performance. The popstar as recently stepped back as a singer and stepped forward as an activist. She performed her song “Til it Happens to You” featured in the documentary The Hunting Ground, a film addressing college sexual assault and how universities handle (poorly) sexual assault cases. This performance was moving and important. (If you missed it, watch it here)
The man himself, Vice President Joe Biden, introduced Lady Gaga with a beautiful call to action. He stated, “We must and we can change the culture so that abused women or men like the survivors you will see tonight never feel they have to ask themselves ‘what did I do?’ They did nothing wrong.” (Again, why isn’t this man running for president? Is it too late?) Biden’s introduction was the first of many wins for this performance. He challenged the rape culture upfront, putting down victim blaming and empowering survivors. He also reminded the audience that sexual assault happens to people of all genders.
The main act starts. Lady Gaga, a survivor of sexual assault herself, dressed in white with a white baby grand piano starts to sing. We can hear the pain in her voice. The lyrics consist of common statements victims of sexual assault hear as they recover like “it gets better after time.” The fact is if you haven’t been a victim of sexual assault you cannot understand the pain they have gone through. But we must hear their voices, tell them it isn’t their fault, and empower them. This performance was an incredible example of how we do that.
During a huge build up of the song, the back of the stage illuminates and reveals silhouettes of a couple dozen people. These people are survivors of sexual assault. They were diverse and consisted of men and women. They walk forward with confidence to the front of the stage and place themselves around the piano and Gaga. At first it’s hard to tell, but we notice all of them holding their arms out. Along their arms are phrases of encouragement, saying “it’s not your fault” or “survivor.” This stance of solidarity gives me chills just writing about it now, three days later.
It ended with them all holding hands and lifting them up, again showing solidarity. That is how we should respond to sexual assault. No one should feel alone in their recovery or in the weight of being sexually assaulted. It was a visual example of how as a society we need to come together and defeat rape culture. We must recognize the ever growing issue of victim blaming and faults in our own legal system (#FreeKesha). This performance put sexual assault in the audience’s face. Despite the past controversies with this year’s Oscars, this was a crucial opportunity for breaking the silence around sexual assault.
Sexual assault needs to be talked about. We need to stop thinking every victim is lying. We need to convict rapists and give them actual sentences they deserve. We need to get rid of the bullshit surrounding this horrific social problem. We need to take it seriously.