The Oscars take on inequality

Story highlights

  • LZ: Neil Patrick Harris hosting the Oscars was an apt backdrop for theme of fighting inequality that ran through the night
  • He says in acceptance speeches actors' advocacy for equality -- for blacks, women, LGBT people -- was timely, moving

LZ Granderson is a CNN contributor, a senior writer for ESPN and a lecturer at Northwestern University. He is a former Hechinger Institute fellow, and his commentary has been recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)The talented, charismatic and handsome Neil Patrick Harris brilliantly ushered this year's Oscars through the potential landmines of political commentary and irreverent humor. Indeed, from hosting many of the entertainment world's most prestigious award shows, to posing on the recent cover of Architectural Digest with his husband David Burtka, it's nearly impossible not to see Harris front and center somewhere.

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All of which makes it hard to remember this former child star was a closeted actor afraid of being found out, not too long ago. In so many ways, Harris' career—as well as the resurrected career of last year's Oscar host, Ellen DeGeneres-- are reminders of how we're learning to treat each other better. Of how we're learning to allow space for those who are different from us.
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With a Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage looming, Harris not only served as an Oscar host, but an unspoken reminder of the work that still must be done in the name of equality.
    Oscar night was full of such reminders. Such as in John Legend's sobering acceptance speech, which touched on the recent, systematic attack on American voter's rights and the disproportionate incarceration rate for black men.
    "Nina Simone said it's an artist's duty to reflect the times we're in," he said as he clutched the Oscar he shared with Common for best original song, "Glory", from the film "Selma".
    " 'Selma' is now because the struggle for justice is right now...There are more black men under correctional control today than there were in slavery in 1850."
    And during her best supporting actress ("Boyhood") acceptance speech, Patricia Arquette brought Meryl Streep and others to their feet as she took time to criticize the gender pay gap.