Do The Oscars Matter? The 2016 Show Has The Potential To Spotlight Women’s Rights, Diversity, & More

The 2016 award season is upon us, and with it comes the most prestigious ceremonies and honors in the entire entertainment industry. As the 2016 Oscar nominations are announced on Thursday, Jan. 14, all of Hollywood will be tuning in to analyze the nominees (and snubs). But in addition to highlighting what the Academy has chosen as the best in film over the past year, the Academy Awards present a far-reaching platform for political and social issues to take center stage. In fact, there's been a longstanding history of winners using their acceptance speeches to highlight politically-charged topics and social issues, from Marlon Brando refusing to accept his Best Actor award for The Godfather (instead choosing to focus on the mistreatment of Native Americans in Hollywood) to Halle Berry becoming the first black woman in history to win the Best Actress Oscar in 2002. And there's a lot at stake at the 2016 Oscars, too — namely, the opportunity to bring attention to gender and diversity issues and to achieve a great deal in terms of social justice.

The Academy Awards is Hollywood's Biggest Night, and the Oscar statuette is arguably the most prestigious and important award in all of cinema. And with the prominent lack of diversity at the 2016 Golden Globes — in terms of both the racial and gender disparity in nominations — the Oscars have the opportunity to rectify this, as well as provide a public platform to address these important topics this year. What exactly is at stake at the 2016 Oscars? Take a look.

1. There Is The Opportunity To Spotlight Issues Like The Wage Gap

Between Jennifer Lawrence's Golden Globe win for Joy and the fact that the Academy loves them some J. Law (she's been nominated in a Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress category three times since 2010, and won once), it seems likely that Lawrence will be up for another Academy Award this year. And with her wage gap essay for Lenny Letter going viral in 2015, it's plausible that Lawrence would take on the issue if she were to be nominated and win. Of course, even if Lawrence is not the winner, this is an issue that could be brought up by any of the nominees — including the ever-outspoken Cate Blanchett, who is known for speaking her mind about sexism in Hollywood.

Who can forget the pivotal moment at the 2015 Oscars when Patricia Arquette used her shining moment as Best Supporting Actress to deliver a riveting speech about equality and the pay gap so powerful that it literally caused Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez to straight rise out of their seats, cheering, clapping, and praising her? More of that, please.

2. ...And Issues Like Sexual Assault Against Women

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Last year's Best Original Song winner was John Legend and Common's "Glory" from Selma, a rousing anthem about the Civil Rights Movement made only more poignant by the fact that it is all too relevant today. With predictions trickling in that Lady Gaga and Diane Warren's "Til It Happens To You" — a haunting, autobiographical, and incredibly important tune from The Hunting Ground about rape and sexual assault — could be nominated this year, it would give the songwriters a platform to address the all-too-prevalent issue of sexual assault. One that carries an even heavier weight in light of the allegations against Bill Cosby.

3. There Could Be An Opportunity For Women Behind The Scenes To Shine

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In the Adapted Screenplay category, Emma Donaghue's Room (one of the most intense novels I have ever read) is a favorite in terms of Oscar hopefuls, as is Phyllis Nagy's Carol. With two women potentially nominated, it challenges the typically male-dominated category. Unfortunately, no female directors were nominated for any Golden Globes this year — a fact that can be traced back into the opportunities for female directors in film, rather than the idea that no woman directed a film worth nominating this year — but there is still a chance for other women behind-the-scenes to have their talents lauded in one of the many other categories.

4. They Can Challenge The Lack Of Diversity At The 2016 Golden Globes & At Last Year's Oscars

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Though the 2016 Golden Globes were notably lacking diversity, the Oscars have a chance to rectify this not just when it comes to women nominees, but when it comes to race, as well. Entertainment Weekly puts Straight Outta Compton on their list of predictions for Best Picture — and it's already been nominated for a Writer's Guild Award for Best Original Screenplay. (The film was entirely snubbed at the Golden Globes.) Additionally, Michael B. Jordan's role in Creed has been garnering Oscar buzz and could hopefully score him a nod. This year's Oscars could also improve upon the diversity of last year's awards and nominations, which were notable for featuring primarily white faces.

6. The Oscars Can Bring Swift Attention To Trans Rights With The Danish Girl

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2015 was an enormous year in terms of trans visibility, due, in large part, to Caitlyn Jenner coming out as transgender and Eddie Redmayne's critically acclaimed turn as a transgender woman in The Danish Girl. And while transgender rights have taken center stage at the Academy Awards before (with Jared Leto's win for his portrayal of Rayon in Dallas Buyer's Club), there's no doubt that a win from Redmayne would once again put these important issues in the spotlight. Like with discussing sexism in Hollywood in terms of the pay gap or bringing awareness to sexual assault, bringing trans issues to the forefront of the stage — no matter how many times it's been spoken about before — is still important until equality is attained.

Ultimately, while the Academy Awards is a night to honor the best in cinema, it also provides an important platform for stars to use their celebrity for good — to change society, to challenge Hollywood, to bring significant issues into the spotlight — and that is perhaps the real golden statue here.

The 2016 Oscars will air on Feb. 28 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

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