Chris Rock’s monologue at the Oscars Sunday night gave an appropriate explanation of 1. why he didn’t boycott hosting the Oscars, 2. why those who were boycotting the Oscars were mad, and 3. how the Oscars are a part of systematic racism that makes black people and other people of color invisible, underrepresented and without work in front of the camera- even when the roles call for people of color specifically. Well, maybe he didn’t go into as much detail as #3, but he did address #1 and #2.
Unfortunately he brushed off the idea that boycotting the Oscars was a legitimate form of protest:
“You know, in the ‘60s, one of those years Sidney [Poitier] didn’t put out a movie. I’m sure there were no black nominees those years. Say ‘62, ‘63. And black people did not protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time. You know. We had real things to protest. We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won for best cinematographer. When [your] grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.”
This year at the Oscars there was not a single black nominee. Same as the year before, actually. But what I believe was the worst tragedy of the night was Rock’s attempt to address race issues in a funny way… it was a tragic train wreck of stereotypes and racism. What was he thinking? “I haven’t brought up any other minorities, so I’ll just have three asian kids come out to be laughed at!” But it’s not like Chris Rock was the only hypocrite Sunday night. We can see Mark Ruffalo condemning America’s white privilege and Hollywood racism. Then we see him flexing his white privilege at the Oscars anyway. He didn’t do or say anything that actually backed up his condemnation that night. He was not held accountable to his words…
No huge celebrity decided to pull a Marlon Brando and send a black person in their place as a sign of protest. Nope. All we got were some jokes about how Hollywood is run by white people and then a bunch of racist jokes against other minorities. This was weak at best for Chris Rock and typical for everyone else. I guess what else did I expect from the same man whose work frequently consists of tired, misogynistic jokes? But I do have to give him some credit for trying. He’s still a black man going after white privilege and that can be dangerous for a career. Plus he did come up with the title I gave this post: “Welcome to the White People’s Choice Awards.”
Even though they are not completely blameless, I do not believe the Oscar’s judges are purposefully excluding people of color from nominations, but Hollywood is. There is a long history of white actors playing every other race ever, instead of just hiring a person of color. Maybe they just didn’t want to offend any PoC right to their faces with the awful stereotypes they had written…
This may seem like an antiquated and long out-of-use system, but this year we’ve already seen a mostly white cast play Egyptians in Gods of Egypt. And just in case you weren’t aware, ancient (and modern) Egyptians were quite a few shades darker than the film’s protagonist, Australia’s Brenton Thwaites.
This is not new, obviously, and it is still very prevalent. Why does Hollywood put white people on a pedestal as the protagonists in movies about the Middle East, when the role calls for someone we would label as “black” or “brown”?
And when they do cast black and brown people in these movies, why are they usually the “bad guys” or impoverished?
Hollywood loves to dress up in black face, brown face, yellow face and red face.
(I’m looking at you Johnny Depp).
So when people say misguided things like “if we start an ‘affirmative action’ for the Oscars, we will no longer be judging people based on their talent, but by their skin color”… they’ve missed the point completely. All any non-white actors want is a chance, because the movies that might actually represent them or their culture are full of white people.
Why and how might this phenomenon continue to be perpetuated in the movie industry? Here is a quote by director Ridley Scott in an issue of Variety:
“I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” Scott says. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
Take that as you will.