By Arturo R. García
Academy Awards? More like Academy of Awkward.
But seriously, what kind of group spends nearly all of 210 minutes squeeing over love letters to movie houses from the 1910s and silent movies?
Oh. Never mind.
That study by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed (or confirmed) that the Oscars electorate is 77 percent male and nearly 100 percent white, gives us the only context in which Billy Crystal’s return as the show’s host could possibly be explained. Otherwise, he couldn’t have been more of a creative anachronist if he’d showed up cosplaying Tyrion Lannister.
Come to think of it, that would’ve been a better idea than him bringing back his Sammy Davis Jr. impression. On Facebook, Racebending’s Michael Le aptly summed up what made this old gag such a miscalculation on Crystal’s part, particularly compared to Robert Downey Jr.’s stint as Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder a few years back:
Robert Downey Jr’s blackface extensively satired the use (and abuse) of blackface by Hollywood. It demonstrated the utter ridiculousness of a white actor attempting to represent and embody a person of color.
In contrast, Billy Crystal’s bit was superfluously included in a national broadcast, in an awards show that has consistently snubbed performers of color – and, I believe, only rewarded a single black actress tonight, for playing a maid.
In an opening shockingly absent of anything remotely funny, Crystal also managed to resurrect blackface on national television. That’s not an accomplishment. It doesn’t demonstrate how “postracial” we are, it just provides fodder for another polarizing discussion on race, with the “get over it” folks ever more firmly entrenched and a genuine dialogue on race totally absent from the national forum.
The offense implicit in blackface is NOT about specificity and never has been. It’s about the historical abuse of blackface portrayals to reduce and control how people of color are viewed in media and society.
The decision by Crystal and producer Brian Grazer to go with this bit for the sake of a 10 or 20-second long sight gag becomes more problematic when you factor in that Crystal really only scored this gig because Eddie Murphy quit in a huff. Moral of the story: Brett Ratner’s to blame for all of this. Or maybe he was luckier for not being there.
But, there were positives last night. Octavia Spencer’s Best Supporting Actress nod for The Help might have been the least-surprising result of the night. But her win especially resonated with the members of the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, which has organized a Bill of Rights campaign around the film:
Now the question for both Spencer and Viola Davis – who lost the Best Actress category to Meryl Streep – becomes, where do they go from here? And will the Oscar voters be as willing to pay attention to them when they’re not playing the conscience of idealistic white people?
As far as pleasant surprises, you also had the evening’s pair of South Asian winners: Iran’s Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, Best Foreign Language Film, A Separation) who dedicated his win to his countrymen, and Pakistan’s first winner, documentarian Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, whose victory for Saving Face spurred a celebration of its own online, as MSNBC reported:
Immediately following her win, proud Pakistanis – watching early-morning satellite feeds of the awards ceremony halfway across the world – took to the web to share their glee and congratulate their fellow countryman. For a brief moment, “Saving Face” became one of the top ten trends, worldwide, on Twitter.
“I walk a prouder #Pakistani today coz of you @sharmeenochinoy and your #Oscar win!!” tweeted @samrammuslim.
“Pakistan wins 1st #Oscar r hero @sharmeenochinoy,” tweeted @asmiather.
Networks across Pakistan broadcast breaking news alerts to announce Obaid-Chinoy’s win. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani announced the nation would confer the filmmaker with the highest civilian award upon her return.
Other points of interest:
- What does it say about the Grammys when Esperanza Spalding, named Best New Artist just a year ago, inspired a bunch of “Who is that?” tweets during her performance last night?
- Really funny moment you missed if you weren’t watching the pre-show coverage on TNT América Latina one of the hosts referring to Demián Bichir as “the Mexican George Clooney” … right to the American George Clooney’s face. Of course, they both lost Best Actor to the French Nathan Fillion, Jean Dujardin.
- Chris Rock’s calling out of Hollywood’s casting prejudices was spot-on, but it shouldn’t have come at the expense of throwing professional voice actors under the bus.
- Here’s to hoping that, while American audiences were introduced to Aurora Guerrero’s Mosquita y Mari thru a commercial, they do the work of getting to know it better by actually going out to see it.
- Here’s to also hoping that, if the Oscar itself can be modeled after a POC, that that Times study points out the glaring need for more of them to vote on who should have a shot at taking one home.
What was your take on the evening, everyone?