Some 24 hours before Common and Andra Day took the Dolby Theater stage to perform their Oscar-nominated song “Stand Up for Something” (from “Marshall”), a group of activists gathered in Beverly Hills to celebrate the moment.
For the performance, each activist was contacted personally by Common and Day, who came up with the idea to use spotlights on stage as a visual element and to literally highlight those on the ground doing the daily work of changing the world.
The activists included Alice Brown Otter (Standing Rock Youth Council); Bana Alabed (author and Syrian refugee); Bryan Stevenson (Equal Justice Initiative); Cecile Richards (Planned Parenthood Action Fund); Dolores Huerta (Dolores Huerta Foundation, United Farm Workers of America); Janet Mock (#GirlsLikeUs), José Andrés (ThinkFoodGroup); Nicole Hockley (Sandy Hook Promise); Patrisse Cullors (Black Lives Matter); and Tarana Burke (Me Too).
“I thought, ‘What if we got people who really do the work?,'” says Common. “People who are true activists out in the world and on the front line. People whose lives, whether by circumstance, have become prime movers for change.”
Both Common and Day emphasized that recognition of the people onstage was for those who really do stand up for something. “What we hoped to convey is the essence of this song,” says Day. “These are all people who have fought through their own personal pain to make things better for themselves and for others. The other message is [to] have people from so many different walks of life – people who have tons of money and own restaurants (Andres) and you have a young girl who’s a displaced refugee (Alabed). … My prayer is that seeing these people and what they do is that catalyst to find the courage to stand up and to serve. I’m of the opinion that, as people, in our essence, we were designed to serve each other and society at large.”
As for whether the Academy Awards are an appropriate venue for political causes, says Common: “This is the place for politics. It’s a platform where people from all walks of life watch. When we won our Oscar [for “Glory” in 2016], John Legend quoted Nina Simone: ‘It’s the artist’s responsibility to speak to the times.’ Sometimes you have to look beyond your community as well. When it comes to women’s rights and the #MeToo movement, I have to be in tune with that and see what I can do to help as a man. I’m a human being that cares.”
Adds songwriter Diane Warren: “The song has resonated with so many different groups that to literally have them represented on the stage … what an amazing honor.”
Read more about and from the activists below:
Alice Brown Otter (Facebook: @alice.brownotter)
The 14-year-old is active with Standing Rock and the #NoDAPL movement, having ran 1,519 miles at the age of 12 from Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to the front steps of the Army Corp of Engineers office in Washington, D.C., to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Bana Alabed (Twitter: @AlabedBana)
Eight-year-old Bana Alabed is a Syrian refugee whose tweets describing her family’s personal nightmare as residents of Aleppo brought her international attention and inspired her to write a book, “Dear World,” which was released in Oct. 2017. Alabed’s family withstood a 2016 siege of the Syrian city, suffering through airstrikes and hunger until they were able to escape to Turkey. “Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace” has been praised by the likes of J.K. Rowling, who described it as “a story of love and courage amid brutality and terror.” Read more about Bana here.
Bryan Stevenson (Facebook: @equaljusticeinitiative)
The director of the Equal Justice Initiative and the author of “Just Mercy,” Stevenson advocates for those wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced. EJI is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.
Cecile Richards (Twitter: @CecileRichards)
Cecile Richards spent more than a decade as president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund and continues to advocate for women’s rights to health care she needs, affordable childcare access and paid family leave.
Dolores Huerta (Twitter: @DoloresHuerta)
A co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez in 1962, since 2003 Huerta has run the Dolores Huerta Foundation, dedicated to voter registration and education campaigns; advocating for infrastructure improvements in low-income communities and for greater equality for the LGBT community. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Janet Mock (Twitter: @janetmock)
A New York Times bestselling author of two memoirs, “Redefining Realness” and “Surpassing Certainty,” Janet Mock founded #GirlsLikeUs, a project that empowers trans women, and recently spoke at the Women’s March on Washington. She is the first trans woman of color to write and produce for television with Ryan Murphy’s FX series “Pose.”
José Andrés (Twitter: @chefjoseandres)
Internationally-recognized chef and television personality Jose Andres is the owner of ThinkFoodGroup, which, together with World Central Kitchen and #ChefsforPuertoRico, has served over 3.3 million meals in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The mother of Dylan Hockley, a student who was tragically gunned down in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, Nicole Hockley is the founder and managing director for Sandy Hook Promise (SHP), the national non-profit organization, working to enable social change and promote gun violence prevention.
Patrisse Cullors (Twitter: @OsopePatrisse)
The co-founder of Black Lives Matter and a New York Times bestseller, Patrisse Cullors is a Fulbright scholar, noted public speaker, and an NAACP History Maker. She says the current “black renaissance” the film industry is seeing is the result of years of protest. “We can’t forget about #OscarsSoWhite,” she told Variety. “For Black Lives Matter, it was challenging [how] whiteness was permeating everything including Hollywood. So what we’re seeing is the culmination of years of organizing. Of us saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t fair.'”
Tarana Burke (Twitter: @TaranaBurke)
The founder of the “Me Too” movement, Tarana Burke is a longtime activist committed to American civil rights activist who works at the intersection of racial justice and sexual violence. A longtime fan who’s watched the Oscars annually, she says walking into the theater for a rehearsal for “Stand Up for Something” was “surprising to see how much smaller it is. But on the stage it was like, ‘This is a big deal,'” says Burke.