Even When White People Finally Get It Right, They Still Get It Wrong
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In one of the most entertaining “spontaneous” bits I’ve ever seen performed at the Academy Awards, Jimmy Kimmel allowed a group of flabbergasted and starstruck tourists into the Dolby Theater to walk past the audience. This, of course, introduced the world to #GaryFromChicago and his wife — computer generated composites of every Black uncle and aunt ever — who both then introduced themselves to Denzel, Ryan Gosling, Mahershala Ali’s Oscar, and then finally Mahershala Ali. It was an ingenious and inspired addition; one that added a welcome bit of levity to a show that can’t seem to help how boring its middle always is.
And, of course, the same Jimmy Kimmel who presumably thought of this idea and also did a great job ushering the tourists through and asking the right questions, couldn’t help but remind us of the subtle racism lurking beneath and infecting his otherwise nimble and capable performance, as he intentionally mispronounced the name of one of the Asian tourists; one of several instances of him using a “foreign-sounding” name as a punchline last night.
Last year’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign called for an Academy that better reflected America’s diversity. And while you could argue that the number of Black-dominated films and actors and actresses honored this year is just a result of there being an unprecedented number of outstanding Black-helmed movies and performances this year — too many for the Academy to ignore — even the staunchest cynic has to admit that the Academy seems to be making some progress. Unfortunately, not only did the Oscars reflect America’s diversity, they reflected America. Where even each bit of halting advancement is accompanied by the stink of pervasive bias and privilege.
Even as Moonlight and Mahershala and Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney and Hidden Figures and Fences and Viola Davis and Halle Berry’s hair received due recognition, it happened during the same show that men like Mel Gibson and Casey Affleck were also honored. Reminding us all that the standards of acceptable and laudable behavior for White people, rich White men particularly, are just different. They’re allowed more leeway, more opportunities, more chances, and a greater benefit of the doubt. Which exists in direct and obvious contrast to the controversy surrounding Nate Parker and Birth of a Nation. Although he definitely deserved every single bit of criticism he received — and seems firmly ensconced in unapologetic aintshitness, so fuck him — the only way he’s ever going to make it to the Oscar stage now is if Jimmy Kimmel invites some more tourists. Aint no Hollywood redemption for Black women and men.
It’s apropos that all of this would happen on the same night of the La La Land/Moonlight mix-up that instantly became the most insane thing I’ve ever seen live, beating the Malice at the Place with a bullet. (When Moonlight was announced as the winner, I just jumped up from my couch and stared at my TV, mouth agape, for 30 seconds. And then I ran upstairs to the third floor to get my laptop because my phone had died a half hour earlier. And then I tweeted HOLY FUCKING SHIT THAT DID NOT JUST FUCKING HAPPEN because I had nothing else to say.) And, after
#envelopegate has gone through 12 hours worth of forensic investigations — and will likely be discussed for the next 1200 years — it seems like what happened just happened because of human error. No conspiracy, no racially-inspired chicanery, no Russian influence. Just humans fucking up. Which happens. It’s just funny how when they finally got it right, they still found a way to get things wrong.