John Legend and Common Say ‘Selma’ Battle Lives on in Voting Restrictions and Mass Incarceration

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In case you missed it: After winning Best Original Song for Selma’s “Glory,” singer-songwriter John Legend told the rapt audience that the struggle for justice is not over. “We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now,” he said, also mentioning in his short but passionate speech that “there are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.”*

Co-winner and rapper Common stressed the universality of the Selma march, which has its 50th anniversary next month: “The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the south side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life; to those in France, fighting for freedom of expression; to the people of Hong Kong, protesting for democracy.”

Shortly before accepting their award, Legend and Common turned in an inspiring performance of “Glory”:

The Selma musicians weren’t the only winners highlighting social issues at the Oscars last night. While accepting the award for Best Documentary, Citizenfour director Laura Poitras thanked Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers for their courage.

Mexican-born Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu said he prays that Mexicans “can build the government that we deserve,” and that Mexican immigrants in the United States “can be treated with the same dignity and respect as the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”

Patricia Arquette, who was named best supporting actress of the year for her performance in Boyhood, called for wage equality and equal rights for women.

Producer Dana Perry dedicated her Oscar for best documentary short (for Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1) to her son who committed suicide, saying “We should talk about suicide out loud.”

Best Adapted Screenplay winner (for Imitation Game) Graham Moore extolled a similar message, referencing his own suicide attempt as a teen. “I would like this moment to be for this kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere,” he began. “Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird, stay different, and then, when it’s your turn, and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.”

*Note: The Washington Post checked Legend’s facts and determined he got it mostly right. The number of incarcerated African-American men does outnumber slaves in 1850, but the percentage of the population is lower. You can read more about that at The Fix.

Katie Rose Quandt reports and produces for She was previously a senior fellow at Mother Jones and has written for America, In These Times and Solitary Watch. Follow her on Twitter: @katierosequandt.
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