Race and the red carpet: What’s happened this awards season?

Two influential women, one of whom is pregnant, graced the Grammy stage earlier this month. Adele Adkins was nominated for and walked away with five golden gramophones while Beyoncé Knowles-Carter was nominated for nine and won two. While it’s hard to take an awards ceremony seriously where artists arrive enclosed in a giant egg costume (we still adore you, Gaga), there is something to be said about these glitter-and-glam ridden Gatsby-esque galas. It is clear that both Adele and Beyoncé are fantastic artists. Adele’s album 25 resounds with nostalgia and explores childhood dreams, past mistakes and unfinished business. It is an album stricken by love and loss – but 25 was a simple restatement of the unoriginal themes from her previous Grammy Award-winning album, 21.

According to the Grammy Foundation, the Grammy Award is given to “honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to sales or chart position.” Ironically, Adele’s 25 sold more copies in its first week of sales than any album of all time. While Adele truly showcased her technical proficiency in the album, her artistry and originality was faded. Beyoncé’s Lemonade took critical artistic risks and skillfully traversed conflicts of today’s social and political atmospheres. Charged with themes of denial, resentment and tolerance, Lemonade is a story written about Beyoncé’s life, constructed by and for women of color. It speaks to the interplay of race, family and empowerment through its distinct musical and poetic construction.

Adele’s 25 was the safe choice that won in a marginalizing attempt to ignore the uncomfortable issues so vital to Lemonade; however, this problem can be traced back to the Foundation, not Adele. During her acceptance speech, Adele even called to Beyoncé, proclaiming: “I can’t possibly accept this award” and “the Lemonade album was just so monumental … You are our light.” Year after year, the Grammys fail to adequately recognize artists of color. In 2013, Mumford and Sons won over Frank Ocean. In 2014, Daft Punk won over Kendrick Lamar. Then Beck won over Beyoncé in 2015 and Taylor Swift won over Kendrick in 2016. On Feb. 12, the Foundation let the comfortable choice win over genuine artistry, originality and social progress.

This past Sunday was another chance to recognize artistic achievement, and there were some truly unforgettable moments. During her acceptance speech for the Academy Award for best supporting actress, Viola Davis said, through tears, “we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” The films showcased this past Sunday did exactly that. From the dramatic Moonlight and Hacksaw Ridge to the bittersweet La La Land and Hidden Figures, the Oscars honored films that showcased what it means to be alive in the most visceral ways possible; yet even while nominations favored those films tangled in realistic drama, artists still believe there is progress to be made.

Janelle Monáe, starring in both best picture nominated films Hidden Figures and Moonlight, spoke about her involvement in Hidden Figures, saying that it told a story “too often marginalized” and that she hadn’t known that “these women took us to space.” She went on to rationalize that while a black actor was nominated in every category, itself a landmark achievement, there is still much progress to be made. Later, host Jimmy Kimmel railed against President Trump: “I want to say thank you to President Trump. I mean remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? It has been an amazing year for movies. Black people saved NASA and white people saved jazz.” While there were many politically-charged comments during the Oscars, perhaps the most unforgettable moment of the night occurred during the last five minutes. In announcing the award for best picture, La La Land was called to stage. It was as predicted. But in a whirlwind turn of events, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had mistakenly called out the wrong winner. In fact, Moonlight, a powerful film which explores a young African-American man’s struggle with his sexuality and identity, had won best picture. While many had expected The Oscars to follow suit with The Grammys, the comfortable choice lost this Sunday. This victory not only serves to validate people of color and the LGBTQ community but also proves that true artistry can and will be recognized, even in politically and socially-complex times.

Jeromy DiGiacomo ’20 is from Wilton, Conn. He lives in Sage.