Afternoon Open Thread: The 2012 Oscars

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?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=697711208 Lola Jusidman

    chris rock was entertaining, i love him. he would make a better host than crystal or james franco

  • verah

    I mercifully missed the blackface. The parts of the ceremony I saw were as awkward and terrible as they usually are; the best thing that came out of it was that I became determined to see that Iranian film that won Best Foreign Film. 

    I found many of the wins absolutely unbelievable – not that Oscars have ever been a great authority on what is quality but this year it stood out to me more than ever. It got tiring telling the TV “really? seriously?” so eventually I just switched it off.

  • sean

    I think in fairness to Chris Rock, it seemed he was referring to *actors* doing animated features, and not actual voiceover artists. He could have worded it more clearly, though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=697711208 Lola Jusidman

    hollywood loves white blue-eyed people. the hollywood “classics” montage was overwhelmingly pale, white, blue-eyed. Most of the movies that people loved the most in these oscars were about nostalgia for the “good old times” (tintin, midnight in paris, hugo, the artist, the help, the iron lady, the tree of life, war horse, marylin, albert nobbs, blah blah blah) when white was the aesthetic ideal in every way and white women were fetishized, and people of color were out of the picture (most of the time). why is there so much nostalgia for the prim and proper time of the early upper-class sixties and earlier, and so little for more accepting, multi-colored eras like the late sixties, seventies, and eighties? 

    also something i noticed in all of the oscar and superbowl ads is that it’s always black people in some sort of dillema, and a white person shows up to help them and explain whatever product they’re selling and how it makes life easier. has anyone else noticed that yet? 

  • miga

    Reading the Jezebel comments re: Billy Crystal and Blackface make me want to bang my head against a wall…  

    • Winn

      Right?  Reading the whitesplaining about how “it’s not reaaallly blackface, because blackface was only Al Jolson and stuff…this was ‘theatrical makeup’ and an impersonation of an ACTUAL PERSON”…I want to bang someone else’s head against the wall, and then smack them upside the head I just knocked into the wall.  I wasn’t aware black people needed schooling on what is ‘real, historical blackface”, but as usual, we’re confused until a white person explains to us why we’re wrong.

    • Anonymous

      You aren’t kidding, but do you expect anything LESS from Jezebel?  They apparently think that if you are aping black people b/c you “admire”, it’s okay.  If the topic of race, esp. black people and black women comes up, you’d best click away or you will spend the day pulling out your hair.

      They bring the art of whitesplaining to a whole new level.  

  • Anonymous

    The host of the Oscars in blackface? In 2012?  Really?    

  • Anonymous

    The host of the Oscars in blackface? In 2012?  Really?    

  • http://twitter.com/BWofBrazil BlackWomenofBrazil

    I am not giving Billy Crystal a pass but at the same time, I can say that he is legitimately trying to look like Sammy Davis, Jr. It’s a little different from the days of Al Jolson when his portrayals and that of others made black people look like monsters. It is not politically correct that Crystal did it again, but I didn’t see it as the humiliation of the old vaudeville shows. Also, realize, the hideous images of blackface are global: 
    http://www.blackwomenofbrazil.com/2012/02/nega-maluca-and-popularization-of.html

  • http://twitter.com/BWofBrazil BlackWomenofBrazil

    I am not giving Billy Crystal a pass but at the same time, I can say that he is legitimately trying to look like Sammy Davis, Jr. It’s a little different from the days of Al Jolson when his portrayals and that of others made black people look like monsters. It is not politically correct that Crystal did it again, but I didn’t see it as the humiliation of the old vaudeville shows. Also, realize, the hideous images of blackface are global: 
    http://www.blackwomenofbrazil.com/2012/02/nega-maluca-and-popularization-of.html

  • Kat

    “Barber of Birmingham”, please!

  • Purpleduck84

    It annoys me how people excuse the blackface by saying that Crystal was doing an impression of Sammy Davis Jr. The fact that he was doing a specific impression of someone doesn’t make it not blackface, ffs.

  • Elton

    What the fuck is wrong with Hollywood?  Why are they so brain-dead when it comes to issues of race and representation?  You might say that the rest of America is just as bad, but I think there is something especially wrong with Hollywood if they haven’t yet heard there might be something problematic about blackface.  I seriously don’t think that would fly anywhere else without at least a comment or two.  A black actress winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for playing a maid?  What year is it, 1939?
    And as a 20-something, who the hell is Billy Crystal?

    I don’t understand how the Oscars can be relevant if normal Americans can’t vote on them.

    • Kat

      I disagree on the “Normal Americans” part. I wand the the Oscars voters to be a gender and race reflection of the population at large, but I absolutely would want it to be something that is voted for by film specialists and industry insiders, not the guy who just catcalled me who wore a Simpson’s shirt. Mass appeal in movies is almost the antithesis of great films (see also “Terminator” and “Transformers” and all “White Savior” films).

    • Kat

      I disagree on the “Normal Americans” part. I wand the the Oscars voters to be a gender and race reflection of the population at large, but I absolutely would want it to be something that is voted for by film specialists and industry insiders, not the guy who just catcalled me who wore a Simpson’s shirt. Mass appeal in movies is almost the antithesis of great films (see also “Terminator” and “Transformers” and all “White Savior” films).

  • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

     And don’t forget that the doc “Undefeated” won as well. It’s the story of a White football coach who swoops in to help a bunch of inner city Black kids.  Basically another version of the Blind Side.

  • Eva

    I’v 52 years old and for me the Oscars really don’t mean a darn thing.  Oscars were given to people like Roberto Benigni, F. Murray Abraham  and Adrien Brody, what have they done lately?  To me, the Oscars mostly go to the flavor of the month or the week.  Hollywood is running out of ideas and with web based shows that are cheaper to produce, I really wonder if the Oscars will mean anything in ten years.