When talking about Ukraine, the Academy should put its money where its mouth is

Courtesy+Creative+Commons

By Shannon Garrido, Multimedia Managing Editor

There is something sinister about sitting on a dirty dorm couch while watching the recent award shows and seeing the words ‘donate’ after a five-minute montage of atrocities. 

On March 27th, during the 94th Annual Academy Awards, I along with my friends watched as Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, Questlove won best documentary feature, and Ariana DeBose became the first openly queer, Afro Latina to win an Oscar. It was a memorable night, with a lot of controversial and celebratory moments, however, during the course of the evening, there was one moment that left a bad taste in my mouth. 

The 2022 Oscars acknowledged the war in Ukraine with a moment of silence, ribbons dedicated to refugees, and calls for donations. Ukrainian-born actress Mila Kunis—who along with her husband Ashton Kutcher donated over $30 million dollars to refugees—told an ABC telecast on Sunday, “It’s impossible not to be moved by their resilience.”  

As heartwarming and necessary as it is to encourage viewers all over the world to pay attention to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I could not help feeling uneasy when I realized that those donation links were directed at viewers, while some of the wealthiest people in the world sat a few feet from that Oscars’ screen. 

Of course, it’s commendable to see someone like Mila Kunis give back to those being displaced or seeking refuge during trying times—however, I cannot applaud her while watching the richest people in Hollywood win awards for movies that make millions and wear designer gowns that could cover my rent, at the same time.

If the Academy Awards is going to ask regular people to donate to Ukraine, make sure that the millionaires in attendance donate three times as much. 

It is more productive to encourage, or even require, wealthy people to contribute to these causes because they clearly have much more to give. There is every motivation to do so. When a college student donates $50 to the Red Cross, no one cares. Yet when celebrities donate half a million dollars (a mere fraction of their income), we see headline after headline commemorating their ‘selfless’ act. The Oscars could have made these resources visible to their guests first, but instead, they showed a 30-second clip by Crypto.com to urge donations for essential services. 

The Crypto.com ad said the company would be matching donations to “alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.” What looked like a blatant PR stunt by Crypto.com and cryptocurrencies at the expense of Ukraine, could have also been an unnecessarily convoluted process. Because cryptocurrencies are highly volatile and most importantly fluctuate greatly in price, in order to match those donations to the Red Cross, Crypto.com will convert donations to Euros. Meaning the Academy could have just as easily promoted or shared a Red Cross link to encourage people to donate, and the results would have been the same. 

So while elite members of the film industry take pictures on the red carpet and receive a standing ovation, working-class citizens, students, single parents, and more are encouraged to open up their wallets—and maybe sign up for Crypto.com in the process. Because it was never truly about helping but about using this war as a means to draw customers or users. If the Academy was looking for actual tangible change, they would have charged Timothée Chalamet tickets to walk in and receive every award. We know rich people are willing to pay big bucks to walk around and get their picture taken, look at the MET Gala

This is not to discourage compassion or effort by those who aren’t rich and famous. Some organizations that are doing great work and should receive more attention, besides The Red Cross, include the Polish Humanitarian Action, HIAS, and their Ukrainian partner R2P

What’s concerning is the use of humanitarian atrocities in these award shows, run by rich people for rich people, that use donation outlets as a means to grow the increasingly disturbing industry that is cryptocurrency. The people that should be sharing their earnings with Ukrainians are Oscar guests and nominees, as well as all those with the good intentions but not necessarily the financial privilege. 

As the Grammys rolled around the crypto debacle fell into the background, also overshadowed by the fact that Will Smith told us all to “Keep my wife’s name out your f** mouth!” 

The Recording Academy partnered with Global Citizen and showed a special segment at Sunday’s Grammy Awards with the social media campaign “Stand Up For Ukraine.” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared on screen appealing to the international community on behalf of his citizens, passionately stating that while the musicians in the audience wore tuxedos, “our musicians wear body armor.”

This was followed by John Legend performing his own song “Free,” with Ukrainian musicians Siuzanna Iglidan and Mika Newton and poet Lyuba Yakimchuk, as images from the war panned  on screens behind them.

Once again, we found ourselves watching these horrors play out on a screen, swaying along to Legend’s piano solo, as the Academy hoped to “raise awareness” about Global Citizen’s efforts. Would it have not been more productive to take some of John Legend or Tony Bennett’s millions at the door? 

Could we not have urged the people walking down a red carpet in priceless jewels and Versace gowns to contribute their own pennies first, instead of ‘raising awareness.’ Because how much awareness are you raising when the war in Ukraine has been heavily reported on? There is something troubling about the way the media takes these very real, very serious issues and finds the hardest, most out of touch solution, which is to make a video segment “to raise awareness.” How is watching children cry for help raising awareness?

Raising awareness means more than just throwing sad images on a screen, it means telling those who have the most to give that they can contribute the most—and therefore they should. Not to mention how disturbing it is that the Oscars and the Grammys have claimed what is very clearly a heavily reported story about the war in Ukraine as a quaint performance, while so many other humanitarian crises invoke their silence. 

The crisis in Yemen, which is still the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, has seen little to no acknowledgment from these entities. In fact, last year the Oscars nominated “Hunger Ward,” a documentary by ​​Skye Fitzgerald that takes viewers inside two clinics in war-torn Yemen that treat malnourished children. However, we didn’t see this same level of ‘effort’ to raise awareness and never mind donations. 

Moments like this make me believe that as a collective, or at least through advertising, we expect to fix or contribute to issues by shoving horrible clips of children crying on our screens and a donation link. Staff Writer for Vox, Kelsey Piper, wrote that although human beings are generally empathetic and willing to donate to causes, too often those efforts see little results. 

These award shows, as fun as they are to watch, are an emblem of the rich and beautiful. Above all, it’s a show, a spectacle, all of which should make us skeptical of motive. Before we clap for those who act like they care for the camera, ask yourself what could get done if they turned that camera off and contributed directly to the cause.