The 87th Annual Academy Awards took place on Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Here is what these Oscar winners said backstage in the Academy Awards press room.
JOHN LEGEND AND COMMON
Best Original Song
(“Glory” from “Selma”)
Can you tell us a little bit about your thoughts in terms of where things are socially? Both of you mentioned it somewhat in your acceptance speech.
Legend: I think there still is a lot to be done. Some of the things I spoke about today, about the rolling back of some of the Voting Rights Act is real and people feeling that around the country. What I spoke about regarding incarceration is real, and it’s destroying communities and it’s a waste of our national resources to put so many people in prison, and it disproportionately affects black and brown communities. And so when we think about equality and freedom and justice, we know we’ve got more work to do. And we’re going to do that work, we want to do that work, and we hope that our song is inspiration for those who want to do that work as well.
Your acceptance speech was just great, but is there anything you want to add for your “Selma” filmmakers or cast members?
Common: Oh, yeah. Because the time was going really quick and there was two of us, I definitely had to cut some of my thoughts short, but I wanted to thank Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo, like he was the beginning of this film. He had the heart and wanted to make this film and he knew it in his heart. And he made sure that Ava DuVernay got on board, he got Oprah to get it moving, and it’s the reason why the film happened.
And the cast and crew we got to work with and everybody from Paramount and Plan B and just our team, even our team, the way we’ve been working, it takes a lot to get to this. We just thank God that we’re here with this. But obviously, everybody that worked on “Selma,” we salute.
Can you just briefly touch a little bit on the collaborative process, how long it took to get the song done and what an emotional journey it was for you two?
Legend: So Common called me, he called me because he had spoken to Ava, and they wanted to find a song for the end credits of the film. And he called me, I was on tour at the time in London, and he described what they were looking for and he gave me some ideas for the title for the song. And one of the ideas he gave me was “glory,” and that word really inspired me and I wanted to write a chorus and music around that idea of “glory.”
And my thoughts were that the song should sound triumphant but also realized that there was more work to do. So when I said, “One day when the glory comes,” that means we still have more work to do. And so that’s what I wrote about. And then Common wrote incredible verses that tied Dr. King’s movement to what’s happening in America today.
In this day and age it seems like a lot of athletes and celebrities don’t like to use the platform that they have to say things like you said this evening. Clearly you guys don’t suffer from whatever that is. How important do you think it is for people that have a high profile to talk about things of social conscience like you guys did this evening?
Common: Well, as John spoke in his speech when he said Nina Simone and talked about using this platform, I feel like to whom much is given much is required. And the fact that we have an opportunity to get to a stage like the Oscars, I mean how could you not say anything, especially representing a film like “Selma,” representing the song “Glory,” and just honestly being an artist that cares.
Like beyond what we have done on this song, John has always made music about love. He’s been doing things for education for a long time. He stands up for issues. He and his wife send trucks to people that were protesting, food trucks to people that were protesting in New York to support them.
Those are the things that I feel like we can do as people in a position of power and influence. So yes, I feel it’s our duty. And I don’t hold any other artists accountable, but it’s our duty, if you recognize that, to do it.
John, how does your wife, Chrissy Teigen, inspire you and how do you plan to celebrate afterwards?
Legend: Well, she absolutely inspires me. My biggest hit song is “All of Me,” and of course that was about us and about our love and what it means to be in love unconditionally, and so she always inspires me. And she’s so happy right now.
She’s been crying since I won but she tried not to do it on camera, so she didn’t do it like she did last time. We’re going to celebrate tonight. We’re going to have a great time. This is really important. The Oscars, there’s nothing like it in the world and for us to win this award, we’re very grateful.
What does it mean to be a storyteller for you?
Common: To be a storyteller is to be able to speak truth, to be able to use your imagination, to use the creative gifts that the Creator has given you … But I’ve got to say, to me to be a storyteller is you got to be able to speak the truth. You’ve got to be able to absorb life and take in life and be able to interpret it in a way that anybody in this room could say, “Man, that’s my story. I can relate to that.” And it’s just finding the humanity in the stories and the creativity in the stories. That’s what it means to me.
Legend: I think that’s what is great about film, too, and we wrote a song for a film. But I think what great art is able to do is develop empathy in people so they can see other people’s perspectives and that’s what we love to do as songwriters and that’s what great filmmakers are able to do as well.
In this unforgettable night and this unforgettable journey, what have you learned the most in this entire event? How are you going to continue to use your celebrity and your voice to bring good to humanity?
Common: I think one of the most important things I learned is that really we’ve all got something similar. I’m meeting a lot of people that coming from where I come from, I wouldn’t normally have met. And when I get in the room with them, it’s like I still can relate to them, we relate. And it’s like I’m really understanding that, like, “OK, yes, you may have come from a different walk of life but we all have something in common.” I ain’t trying to say my name and everything, but, you know.
Legend: We’re all legends.
Common: But you know, that’s what I really learned during this process, and I feel like that once you get this platform, I always felt, and said to myself, the more I get, the more I got to do — meaning I got to do more like this is the beginning for a new phase of me doing more. And it’s like the experience of “Selma” helped catapult that.
Music is the universal language. How do you want “Glory” to start a dialogue universally about what we need to do in terms of diversity and equal rights?
Legend: I think we already talked about it today, and we wrote this song in response to “Selma,” and I think that film is so poignant and urgent and current even though the events it depicted were 50 years ago. So I think all of that is helping us to think about how we interact with each other, how to live for the spirit of love and not a spirit of fear.
And hopefully we’ll take those lessons and continue to learn from each other, recognize each other’s humanity and try to strive towards a love that is public which Dr. Cornel West said, “Loving in public is what justice is.” And so, we’re focused on justice because that’s what it means to love people that you don’t even know and fight for their rights and see the value in their lives, and hopefully we’re able to spread more of that love.
For more info: Academy Awards website
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