March 03, 2016

Diversity lacking at 2016 Oscars

Chris Rock’s Oscars didn’t “fight the power”: A night of crude jokes and cynical deflection is a poor way to show progress

Rock's big night shows us Hollywood wants it both ways—for movies to be powerful art and blameless entertainment

By Arthur Chu
The stage was set with Chris Rock’s opening monologue, which, while it certainly directly addressed the #OscarsSoWhite issue, made two breathtakingly tone-deaf arguments in quick succession: One, that the Oscars (and representation in entertainment media in general) is really not that big a deal, and two, the reason people are making a stink about it now is that we are no longer dealing with things that are big deals, like the actual violence and murder protested by the 1960s civil rights movement.

This was an incredibly stupid thing to say. The fact that #OscarsSoWhite has trended in tandem with its preceding sister hashtag #BlackLivesMatter isn’t exactly subtle to anyone who’s ever glanced at so-called Black Twitter. (Which Rock clearly has, given his much-appreciated last-minute shout-out to #BlackLivesMatter at the end of the ceremony.) A #BlackLivesMatter documentary addressing the violence and murder going on in the streets right now was commissioned by HBO as a direct result of the uncomfortable negative attention #OscarsSoWhite put on the film industry.

Acting like caring about day-to-day violence in the streets and the impact media and culture have on that violence are somehow mutually exclusive—a common, frustrating, tired argument anyone who talks about racism in media will inevitably see dozens of times in the comments section—ignores history.

It ignores the many, many arguments that have been made about how the excuses made for the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown frequently come verbatim from untrue stereotypes out of TV and movies, how the only way Darren Wilson’s description of Brown as a “demon” who was “bulking up to get through the bullets” could possibly make sense to anyone is after a lifetime of media portrayals of the scary superhuman black man. It ignores Martin Luther King going out of his way to call Nichelle Nichols and tell her not to quit “Star Trek” because having a black woman on TV who wasn’t a domestic servant mattered. It ignores the ongoing civil rights protests around the Oscars back in the 1960s and ’70s, including Marlon Brando making history as the first and only best actor winner to boycott the ceremony, sending American Indian Movement activist Sacheen Littlefeather to accept the award in his place.

It ignores the fact that at the very moment Chris Rock was talking, there was a “Justice for Flint” fundraiser going on in protest of the Oscars, hosted by two black prominent filmmakers snubbed for best director nods who used #OscarsSoWhite to bring attention to the cause of a predominantly black community whose water was literally poisoned.
8 Reasons Why I Hated Chris Rock's Oscars Monologue

Opinions about the funnyman's opener ranged from "he told the truth" to "I laughed at parts," to "it sucked." Here are eight reasons why Akiba Solomon wishes it never happened.

By Akiba Solomon
One: Rock was foul for saying that Jada Pinkett Smith was only boycotting the Oscars because she wasn't invited. I can see why some see Pinkett Smith's actions as calculated and insincere, but Rock didn't say that. Instead, he reduced everything—the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, the boycott and the alternate events (including one starring his brother)—to the sour grapes of a self-centered, spoiled, unqualified Black woman. It was also dumb. Because Jada Pinkett Smith can get into the Oscars.

Two: #OscarsSoWhite isn't some silly little hashtag. This year, people of all races have used it to talk about the problems large and small with an awards show that nominates strictly White actors across 20 categories. Plus the hashtag, news coverage and discussions provided Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Black woman who heads up the Academy, with the political cover I believe she needed to change membership and voting rules that have grossly privileged elderly White men for years.

Three: Claiming that Black people care about #OscarsSoWhite because we have nothing real to be mad about was hostile to the truth. Here is a man who made an (uneven, sexist) documentary about Black hair in 2009 because his daughter was sad about not having "good hair." But in 2016, Rock knows nothing of contemporary Black struggle? Like, when people say "Black lives matter," does he hear, "Tekjjdioj gj()gui p;/00+"? Does "I can't breathe" bring anything to mind? How about "Sandra Bland," "Michael Brown," "Eric Garner" and "not guilty"?

Four: Using the image of a Black grandmother hanging from a tree as a punch line was blasphemous. This country has never atoned for its history of lynching, castrating and fatally dragging Black people from pickup trucks. Nor has it meaningfully addressed the burning of entire Black towns, race riots and other lynching-adjacent crimes.
Commentary: Joe Biden wasn't as funny at the Oscars as Chris Rock, but at least he didn't make an Asian joke

By Dexter ThomasAs the show progressed, some people who were watching used Twitter to ask why Chris Rock wasn't talking about all underrepresented people, instead of just black people. This has been a point of concern for a while, as some have assumed that just because the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was started by a black woman, it must be black-focused, though the originator has repeatedly clarified that she was speaking of inclusion for all people.

The argument spun off into a separate conversation under the #NotYourMule hashtag, as people argued over whether black people should need to stand up for other people of color at every opportunity.

And really, Chris Rock shouldn't have to deal with this criticism: While he may have focused on the lack of opportunities available to black talent Sunday night, he is on record talking about diversity issues in Hollywood that go beyond black and white. In 2014, he wrote in the Hollywood Reporter:

But forget whether Hollywood is black enough. A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough? You're in L.A, you've got to try not to hire Mexicans. It's the most liberal town in the world, and there's a part of it that's kind of racist—not racist like "... you, ..." racist, but just an acceptance that there's a slave state in L.A. There's this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in L.A. that doesn't exist anywhere else.

That insight was nowhere to be found at the Oscars on Sunday when he made a cheap joke about Asian child labor.
The Oscars’ awkward & insincere masochism: Why the #OscarsSoWhite ceremony felt like such a disappointment

Last night's show was defined less by Chris Rock's uneven hosting turn than by the Academy's cognitive dissonance

By Jack Mirkinson
Watching this extended masochism session was a strange experience. We were told, time and again, how wrong the Oscars had gotten things, and then another award was given out and the violins swelled and an oh-so-worthy Oscar moment was had. The show was desperate for us to know how sorry it was to have failed us so thoroughly, but it also wanted us to remain utterly devoted to both the people who did get nominated and to the broader idea of importance and integrity of the Oscars. The cognitive dissonance seeped through the entire night.

One thing that really didn’t help was the ceremony’s complete tone-deafness about any diversity that didn’t fit into a black-white framework. Rock did a bit about Asians—using children, no less—that was so off-key, so glaringly unfunny that you wondered how it had gotten through in a year when the show was trying to prove that it had its finger on the pulse. Aside from winning director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu and a couple of short film awardees, Asians and Latinos had virtually no presence for the entire evening. It was, to say the least, an odd choice.
After Oscars, Hashtags Ask: Does One Minority Group Have to Fight for Another?

By Karen WorkmanNo sooner had the curtains closed on the 88th Academy Awards, which was punctuated by Chris Rock’s scathing but broadly praised opening monologue on racism in Hollywood, than a new battle had reached a fever pitch on social media. And it had its own hashtag: #notyourmule.

Some viewers took issue with what they saw as the narrow focus of Mr. Rock’s opening monologue, which skewered racism in Hollywood but, they said, ignored the concerns of Asian, Latino and other minority artists. Others slammed the comedian’s bit involving Asian children posing as accountants as reinforcing negative stereotypes.
Summing it up

Critic's Notebook: Chris Rock's Monologue Is All #OscarsSoWhite All the Time

By Daniel FienbergFor viewers who think that Academy Awards diversity is not a problem at all, it was presumably way too monomaniacal, especially if you were hoping that Rock would unload on Donald Trump for a few minutes just to soften the blow of Jon Stewart's absence from late night.

But for people who think this actually is a serious thing because movies are supposed to be a reflection of society—and the Oscars are supposed to be a reflection of the best in movies—the actual effectiveness may have been mixed. Rock attacked the problem, while minimizing it; announced the racism, but made it seem benign and friendly; offered solutions, but the main feigned solution was black-only categories like "best black friend" ("And the winner for the 18th year in a row is, Wanda Sykes!").
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Asian Jokes at 2016 Oscars and Recapping the 2016 Oscars.

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