The 88th Academy Awards took place on February 28th, and was unequivocally a milestone for survivors everywhere. Perhaps most notable, was the powerful performance by Lady Gaga, singing "Till It Happens To You," a song that was featured on and written for the award-winning documentary, The Hunting Ground, which explores the issue of sexual violence on college campuses. The popular artist was joined onstage by 50 survivors of sexual assault, sporting inked messages like "I believe you" and "Not your fault" on their arms. The song itself was nominated that night for Best Original Song.
Prior to the performance, Vice President Joe Biden — who has been instrumental in It's On Us, which is the White House's campaign to end sexual violence at universities — introduced Lady Gaga and made the statement "We must and we can change the culture so that abused women and men like the survivors you will see tonight never feel they have to ask themselves, 'what did I do.' They did nothing wrong." Biden encouraged viewers and attendees at the award ceremony to take an online pledge to intervene in situations involving sexual violence.
But Lady Gaga's performance was not the only moment at the Oscars that highlighted sexual violence. "Spotlight," a film depicting the journalists who were pivotal to exposing the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and subsequent cover-ups, took home the award for Best Picture. Surrounded by the cast and creative team, producer Michael Sugar made the statement: "This film gave a voice to survivors and this Oscar amplifies that voice which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican," followed by a challenge to Pope Francis, imploring "it is time to protect the children and restore the faith."
Before the awards ceremony, actor Mark Ruffalo, who starred in "Spotlight," along with the film's director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer joined protestors in downtown LA, outside Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, rallying against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and demanding for the names of pedophile priests in the clergy to be released to the public.
Award ceremonies like The Academy Awards and the Grammys have long been platforms for activism. Last year, Brooke Axtell, a domestic violence survivor took the stage at the Grammys, and a video message from President Obama was aired, also as part of the It's On Us campaign, calling out viewers to condemn sexual assault and domestic violence. But opportunities like "Spotlight" — a film whose subject matter revolves around breaking the silence of sexual abuse within an institution — winning the most prestigious award at The Academy Awards, means a great deal for survivors everywhere, in that more people can be exposed to and participate in the conversation surrounding sexual violence.