February 28, 2023

Oscar’s Social Impact Films

By USC MISC (Media Institute for Social Change)

In addition to talking about the quality of filmmaking and performances, movies in contention for Academy Awards are always scrutinized for impact. “It’s always gratifying to see the Academy honoring films that carry a message for social change,” says Michael Taylor, Executive Director of USC MISC (Media Institute for Social Change) at the School of Cinematic Arts. Several of this year’s nominated films do in fact highlight hot-button social issues.
Here is MISC’s List of Oscar films that are influencing important social change conversations.

Aftersun — Depression (Best Actor)
This character study is set during a father/daughter holiday to a resort in Turkey and centers on the consequences of untreated mental illnesses on relationships and the trajectory of one’s life.

All Quiet On the Western Front — Anti-War (Best Picture, Best International Feature, Best Adapted Screenplay, and six other categories)
A new adaptation of the renowned novel by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of the First World War, depicts how heroism becomes desperation and the high price of war paid by the young men who are trusted to the frontlines of our conflicts.
All That Breathes — Environmentalism/Conservation (Best Documentary Feature)
With its message that “one shouldn’t differentiate between all that breathes” this documentary follows two brothers who rescue injured black kites, birds that fall victim to smog, and other human-created conditions that threaten the New Delhi ecosystem.

Avatar: The Way of Water —The Environment (Best Picture and three others)
James Cameron’s long-awaited sequel to the 2009 Avatar, focuses even more on the consequences of human destruction of the environment and Earth’s decline as a habitat.

Everything, Everywhere, All At Once — Representation (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and five others)
While there are many, many little lessons about kindness, immigrant rights, environmentalism, and a dozen other issues (let’s say anything and everything), the film will be remembered for being a salient example of what Hollywood has been missing out on for its lack of diversity.

Haulout — Climate Change (Best Documentary Short)
A scientist braves the stark Siberian Arctic to document the devastating effects of melting sea ice on the walrus migration. The animals, devoid of the ice shelves they used as their resting places, now haul out of the sea and onto a beach full of perils.

Living — Aging (Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay)
What does it mean to live fully? Facing a devastating diagnosis, an older London bureaucrat looks for joy in his surroundings.

The Martha Mitchell Effect — Gaslighting (Best Documentary Short)
Gaslighting, especially its use in controlling outspoken women, is at the center of this story of Watergate whistleblower Martha Mitchell who is painted as mentally ill for her allegations of government corruption. The film also highlights the way mental illness is treated as a stigma in society.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio — Anti-Fascism (Best Animated Feature)
Using stop motion animation, del Toro centers the idea of “disobedience as a virtue” using the classic tale of the puppet who dreams of being a real boy and embedding him in the fascism of Mussolini’s rise.

The Sea Beast — Propaganda (Best Animated Feature)
This adventure at sea takes on the idea that the stories that are told to us might not always be the whole truth. Ostensibly just another children’s film, it makes us reflect on the adult-sized consequences of current political practices like book bans and anti-woke legislation.

Stranger at the Gate — Islamophobia (Best Documentary Short)
A story of what’s possible when we dare to form relationships that challenge our worldview, this film is about the improbable conversion of a former marine who was intent on killing Muslims but ends up converting to Islam.

Triangle of Sadness — Class and Wealth Inequality (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay)
What happens when all the hierarchies we accept in society are flipped on its head? This satirical black comedy examines extreme wealth, class, and distribution of resources, both in intimate relationships and in society at large, using larger-than-life characters and circumstances.

The Whale — Fatphobia (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress)
While the movie itself doesn’t confront the issue head-on, it has spurred a conversation about the way fat people are portrayed in media as depressed binge eaters who are ashamed of themselves and the way they look. The criticism extends to the fact that none of the film’s key creators is fat.

Women Talking — Gender Inequality (Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay)
The women of a religious community, who are already disadvantaged by their gender, debate what their response should be to egregious sexual abuse: Do nothing. Stay and Fight. Leave. The ensuing conversations about these choices offer rich, emotional explorations of power, morals, forgiveness, authority, and experiences that can be determined simply from gender identity.


MISC aims to be a leader in advancing thought, discussion, and experimentation of how various forms of media can be utilized most effectively to influence maximum social impact. In addition to content creation, MISC provides industry education for Hollywood, original research, and events, and offers USC students a film minor in media for social change. www.uscmisc.org.