Bioethics Blogs

The Oscars: Hollywood’s Biggest Night and Why it Matters to Medicine and Public Health

by Macey Henderson and Jennifer Chevinsky

The Oscars, or the glamorous Academy Awards, are known as the biggest night for Hollywood’s actors and for its big ratings for the mass media. For days following this gala, the media reports on the outfits worn, Oscars won, and perhaps most passionately, they begin to critique the process and decisions of the prestigious American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (i.e. “The Academy”).  But why should the medical and public health community care about the Academy, the big name nominees, or the ultimate winners?

An Oscar win means positive attention for the film, director, and actors. Similarly, for films with a message, intense awareness of the cause can follow a big win. For example, Al Gore did not become a climate change celebrity because of his work within the government. It was his Oscar-winning documentary that made climate change a cause celebré. We have argued before that the mass media has a responsibility to provide the public with evidence-based messaging, however that is not generally expected from popular cinematic productions. Films can provide stellar representations of human suffering, or reinforce misinformation as it pertains to particular health data and medical conditions.

Films portraying patient and family narratives in medical and social situations that challenge our ideas, values and institutional belief systems are well known in Oscar history. Past movies that have portrayed these issues realistically, shining a light on disparities, have aided in constructive social and cultural change such as happened with the film Philadelphia.  Getting attention from the Oscars can lead to worldwide critical financial support, research, and advocacy of otherwise under-recognized societal and health-related concerns.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.