Emil Guillermo: #OscarsSoWhite? Oscars so long, dull, and out of focus

February 29, 2016 10:27 AM

It was getting so bad on the 88th Oscars telecast, I had the sound turned down. But then Chris Rock introduced the Oscar accountants. It was a bad enough sight gag. I only saw the three Asian American kids with the black-rimmed glasses. 

Oh yeah, because they're good at math.
 
Is that any better than the throwback Mickey Rooney image from "Breakfast at Tiffany's"? 

Modern, cleaned up, and just as racist. 

OscarKids2.jpg

On top of it, the targets were kids. Innocents. What, no guts to tell a human trafficking joke?

Rock, who was supposed to be the antidote to Oscar snubbery, was pretty good at serving up a mixed bouquet for the night: Rosebuds and weeds.

And just like the Academy knew it had blown it on the lack of diverse nominees, Rock and his joke writers knew they were being naughty on the three Asian kids stereotype joke as he delivered this prepared F-U line.

"If anyone is upset about that joke," said Rock, "just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids."

That's a topper! Child labor and exploitation.

The show that was intended to skewer the Oscars for the lack of diversity declared open season on Asians.

After that, I didn't care any more if Sacha Baron Cohen was making an Asian joke when he talked about "hardworking little yellow people with tiny dongs."

At nearly three hours into the Oscars, I just wanted to know what would win Best Picture?

And if it were "Spotlight," would they replace the bear in the audience with a defrocked priest?

The jokes were getting out of hand at the Oscars, and it was spoiling real moments like Alejandro Inarritu's touching acceptance of his Best Director Oscar for "The Revenant."

The Mexican director had something to say about diversity. 

In his remarks, he thanked the Native American cast in "The Revenant."  And then Inarritu acknowledged his own luck in the business.

Inarritu2.jpg

"Unfortunately, many others haven't had the same luck," the director said. He then quoted a line from his film and tried to give the night a sense of hope on race. "They don't listen to you, they just see the color of your skin. So what a great opportunity to our generation to really liberate ourselves of all prejudice and this tribal thinking and make sure for once and forever, the color of your skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair."

Short, sweet, but not a joke. 

So, of course, the band was intent on playing him off.

It was the only truly genuine and sincere moment on the diversity issue. You can't count Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs' prompter-driven comments hours into the show. 

She had long abdicated the role of diversity commentator-in-chief to host Chris Rock.

When it came to his opening monologue, Rock didn't disappoint. But he was expected to skewer the bad guys there. Not the innocents.

Rock3.jpg
He even asked a question I had: Why protest these 88th Academy Awards? 

"Which means this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times, OK. You got to figure it happened in the 50s, the 60s," Rock said. "One of those years Sidney [Poitier] didn't put out a movie. I'm sure there were no black nominees some of those years. Say, '62, '63.

"Black people did not protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time."

That got Rock his first sustained eight-second laugh.

"There were too many being raped and lynched to care about who got Best Cinematography," said Rock. "When your grandmother's swinging from a tree, it's really hard to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short. But what happened this year? People went mad."

And with good reason. But I've been talking about the Oscars' lack of diversity for a long time.

In fact, I thought we had actually turned a corner on the issue when I covered the Oscars in person in 1986.

That was the year when "The Color Purple" was nominated for 11 Oscars, including acting nominations for Whoopi Goldberg. Oprah Winfrey. and Margaret Avery. Director Herbert Babenco was nominated for "Kiss of the Spider Woman." Meg Tilley, part-Asian American, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for "Agnes of God."
 
There was even the renowned Japanese director Akira Kurosawa nominated for "Ran."

But here we are 30 years later, and the industry has regressed.

Rock's best joke may have been in conflating Oscars' diversity with another race issue in society: "This year in the 'In Memoriam' package, it's just going to be black people shot by the cops on the way to the movies."

It was the biggest laugh of his monologue.

Rock also had a solution for the Oscars' lack of diversity.

"If you want black nominees every year, you need to have black categories," Rock said, noting the academy separates by gender already in acting. "There's no reason. It's not track and field. You don't have to separate them. Robert De Niro's never said, 'I better slow this acting down so Meryl Streep can catch up.'...If you want black people every year, just have black categories like 'Best Black Friend.' And the winner for the 18th year in a row is Wanda Sykes."

The problem is that Hollywood's diversity problem is a lot more than black and white.

And that's why the abundance of race jokes soon became annoying instead of satirical.

One of the worst was "Clueless" actress turned Fox commentator Stacey Dash, who had criticized #OscarsSoWhite. Now she was being introduced as the academy's fictitious minority outreach program director.

"I cannot wait to help my people out," Dash said, playing into the joke. "Happy Black History Month."

The joke flopped worse than "Ishtar."
 
The key element missing in all the bad jokes?

A sense of diversity. 

Finally, two hours into the show during a Chris Rock "man in the street," there was a positive Asian reference. 

manonstreet.jpg

A black interviewee holding an Oscar said, "This should be not just white. It should be Asian, Hispanic. There's so much talent out there of all races."

Until that point, none of the barbs hurled by Rock had made inclusiveness the point.

Where were the Asian American nominees? Were we any less invisible?

Pixar animator Ronnie Del Carmen, an Asian American of Filipino descent, was among the first group of nominees in Best Original Screenplay for his story contribution in "Inside Out." 
 
An actual Asian American nominee. But he did not win. 

That result was in the first group of awards, and I could have stopped watching the show right there.

I should have.

But then I would have missed some truly awkward diversity moments, like presenters Byung-hun Lee and Sofia Vergara together in one of the evening's fake showbiz moments.

By then, the show was hurtling out of focus. 

There was Vice President Joe Biden on campus rape, as if one controversial issue per Oscars wasn't enough. And there were a few mentions of climate change, LGBTQ issues, the oppression of women, and Lady Gaga's emotional performance featuring people said to be victims of sexual assault. Gaga's last note was greeted with the audience standing in awe.

Diversity should have had a moment like that. 

But the jokes kept getting in the way. 

*     *     *
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.

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