Sometimes, you can’t see the trees for the forest. Especially when your eyes are deliberately closed.
As I wrote Sunday, I deliberately snubbed the Oscar awards that night, primarily because of their historic and current misogyny. After finishing up the piece but before publishing, I realized I had not referred to Hollywood’s historic and current racism. I chose to leave the piece as it was, little suspecting the dramatic extent to which the ceremony was illuminating and placing in relief those same shameful character traits of the movie-making industry and their effect on our national dialogue about race and gender.
Let’s start with the opening musical number. On a night when men got four times the Oscar nominations that women did, the Academy chose to open the show with a number entitled “We Saw Your Boobs.” For the record, four of the nude scenes alluded to in Seth MacFarlane’s tasteless and voyeuristic song were rape scenes.
But then, mocking violence against women was something of a theme of the evening. In attempting a joke about the excruciatingly violent movie about slavery, “Django Unchained,” Mr. MacFarlane said, “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.” Chris Brown, you may know has been accused of assaulting not only his girlfriend Rihanna (seen here in a painfully graphic image of that abuse) but also Frank Ocean, an R & B singer who came out recently as having had a homosexual relationship – and sure enough, there were anti-gay jokes too.
Stunningly, Seth MacFarlane’s humour did not represent the low point of the evening. That honour was reserved for “The Onion,” who posted – and later deleted – and much later apologized for – a tweet calling Oscar nominee Qudenzhané Wallis a crude and deeply offensive four-letter word often used to denigrate women (the original tweet is pictured here for those who haven’t seen it and want to know). Ms. Wallis, for the record, is nine years old – an age where even for the Oscars ceremony, she carried a puppy purse.
Meanwhile, the producers of the show, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron both stated they had no regret for including the “We Saw Your Boobs” number, and Mr. Zadan added, “You hire Seth MacFarlane, you want something to be cutting edge and irreverent.” (Zadan, quoted in The New York Times) Irreverent? Irreverent?!
As I understand it, the Academy is about 77% white male., so it is probably no surprise that a good deal of mansplaining and whitesplaining (thanks to my friend José Vilson for that term!) has been taking place attempting to explain away, minimize, and justify these attempts at humour that miss the mark so badly that one can easily be forgiven for having missed even the intention of humour in the first place (as I did with the “Onion” tweet). The misogyny is obvious to all but the most deliberately obtuse given the choice of words. The racism was equally obvious to many, but not all. Nonetheless, as Mr. Vilson points out – and it might be seen as merely a matter of bad timing though that seems highly unlikely – white child actors Dakota Fanning and Anna Paquin were not subjected to the same dehumanizing treatment inflicted on Ms. Wallis.
On Mr. Vilson’s Facebook page, Jennifer Dixey quoted her high-school-aged niece as having written, “If your humor is meant to be offensive, but you can’t deal with people being offended, your humor is probably about enforcing oppression.”
And with that comment, we’ve come a long long way from a ceremony meant simply to celebrate a form of entertainment – except that we really haven’t, as misogyny and racism are absolutely embedded in the movie industry. After all, they embraced Seth MacFarlane as host knowing what they were in for – and they defended him afterward.
This same weekend, in what seemed to be another world altogether, the girls of Stoneleigh-Burnham School presented a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” that was absolutely stunning in its power. Jane as Prospera (the final “a” is deliberate) made every single syllable count for maximum emotional impact, Mary as Ariel made every single movement pure poetry, and Karen as Caliban had the audience in stitches simply through the guttural sounds she emitted before we even saw her. And these are just examples – every single girl in the play was strong and confident, and took an obvious pride in her performance. As the cast was leaving stage after the final bow, one of the 8th graders glanced out at the audience with a look that shone so strongly of pride, delight, and perhaps a mild surprise that my eyes watered.
That is what can happen when we give kids the love and respect they deserve. As Mr. Vilson put it, “Until we can embrace each others’ humanity because of our minimal differences, we will continue to have this deep-seated angst and frustration… [But] if we can all look at our children as needing our support, care, and love on their own paths to success, then humanity will come one step closer to seeing as others as equal.”
And I do believe we can. I do believe we must.