clock menu more-arrow no yes

Oscars 2016: Lady Gaga and Joe Biden lead the charge to take sexual assault seriously

The night was full of nods to survivors.

Lady Gaga has turned out some powerful performances recently, but she saved her best for the Oscars.

Gaga wrote the Oscar-nominated "Til It Happens to You" for The Hunting Ground, a harrowing documentary about sexual assault on college campuses. The singer has been actively and passionately involved in raising awareness for the issue, and has been open about how she, too, is a survivor of rape.

And so she channeled all her righteous anger, frustration, and passion into an extraordinary performance, with a grand finale that featured a whole group of sexual assault survivors, standing together in solidarity. The song brought the Oscar audience to its feet — and inspired Room star Brie Larson (who would go on to win Best Actress) to stand and hug every single survivor as the group left the stage.

Gaga's candid, emotional performance was a significant moment in Oscar history, but it was just as significant that she was introduced by none other than Vice President Joe Biden, who's led a charge against campus sexual assault in the past couple years with the "It's On Us" campaign.

After quelling a standing ovation ("I'm the least qualified person here"), Biden gave Gaga credit for her role in the campaign, and made a direct plea to the audience to "take the pledge," intervene when consent has not been given, and "change the culture" that allows rape to happen.

It was a huge statement from a powerful person, followed by an incredible, defiant performance. And even though Gaga didn't win the Oscar — the award went to Sam Smith for "Writing's on the Wall" — she made the absolute most of the night.

Her performance would have been moving in any year, but it was especially significant given the fact that this year's Oscars honored several movies that unflinchingly deal with sexual assault. Best Picture winner Spotlight told the story of the Boston Globe journalists who investigated sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Larson won Best Actress for Room, in which she portrayed a woman trying to make a life for herself and her son inside their kidnapper's (and her rapist's) shed.

And then there's Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller's update of his Mad Max series, which focused more on Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa trying to free a dictator's sex slaves than on Mad Max himself. The film won a total of six Oscars, including Production Design, Film Editing, and Costume Design.

To see these movies receive accolades on the Oscars stage is undeniably huge. Oscar Sunday is the biggest night in Hollywood; all the significant players in the entertainment industry have their eyes trained on that stage. Having sexual assault be treated as seriously as it deserves to be treated, on this kind of scale — and with the support of the vice president, no less — is a crucial moment in Oscar history.