Last night’s 87th annual Academy Awards began with host Neil Patrick Harris joking about “honor[ing] Hollywood’s best and Whitest” and ended with Sean Penn asking for director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s green card, while the #OscarSoWhite hashtag had its own winning moment on Twitter. Frequent camera cuts to African-American attendees like Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo and Octavia Spencer seems to many like overcompensation for the lack of blackness at the Oscars. So when John Legend and Common brought the house down performing the Selma theme song “Glory,” then accepted golden statues for Best Original Song, the win felt like an equalizer.
“First off, I’d like to thank God that lives in us all,” Common began. “Recently, John and I got to go to Selma and perform ‘Glory’ on the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the civil rights movement marched on 50 years ago. This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation, but now is a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the South side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope. Welded with compassion. And elevated by love for all human beings.”
John Legend continued: “Thank you. Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the voting rights, the act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you that we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on.”