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  • Audrey Cleo

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    the most offensive moment from last night’s oscars.

    The most offensive moment of last night’s 84th Academy Awards wasn’t J-Lo’s alleged nip slip or Jim Rash’s hilarious Angelina Jolie-inspired stage stance or even that we didn’t get to hear Bret McKenzie’s winning Muppets song, but came right after a beautiful hot mess of an acceptance speech. After Octavia Spencer fumbled her way through a teary series of thank yous for her Best Supporting Actress win in The Help, she topped her flustered verbal whipped cream with the cherry “I’m freaking out!,” then squeezed out a few more acknowledgements before being ushered off the stage with the help of Christian Bale, little gold man in tow. It was a cute, genuine moment. Host Billy Crystal noted that her charming incredulity was what the Oscars were all about, only to follow it up with a joke about how he was so moved after watching The Help that he wanted to hug the first black woman he saw “which in Beverly Hills is about a 45-minute drive.” Facepalm. Which direction exactly he didn’t say, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere south and slightly east.

    With its knee-slap subtext about race and class (“No black people live in fancy Beverly Hills! Har har!”), the quip at once made light of the colorized socioeconomic divide that’s gotten wider in past decades while simultaneously ignoring upwardly mobile black America, some of whom – gasp! – even live in Beverly Hills. As would be expected, the “joke” sent tongues wagging and thumbs tweeting, mostly with outrage.

    Did the joke come out of a place of overt racism? I’m going to guess no. I highly doubt the Oscars writers’ room was packed with a bunch of folks sitting around with their legal pads and inky pens going, “Let’s be racist today!” That’s silly, simplistic, and presumptuous. Unfortunately, lack of intent doesn’t mean inability to offend; look no further than the ESPN debacle over the “Chink in the Armor” headline regarding Jeremy Lin. Rather, the line was born out of a vicious cycle of perception divided by race along class lines with no intention of nuance or acknowledgement of those who have transcended them. It’s the anachronistic, low-hanging fruit of comedy that may have barely flown during the time of The Help much less decades after it. Also, it just wasn’t that funny, especially when it was dovetailing off an acceptance speech made for a movie set in segregation era 1960s America. If comedy’s all about timing, boy was it the wrong time for that one.

    When it comes to identifying racism, it’s a bit like determining what’s porn: You know it when you see it. But even the latter has been hard to pin down lately. Images get pixelated, regrettable punchlines get broadcast on network TV, and ideas about what is and what isn’t get conflated depending on the source. Would it have been okay if it wasn’t Billy Crystal but, say, Chris Rock delivering it? Maybe. The complicated and uncomfortable thing about talking about race or sexuality or any category with the potential of a marginalized population is the issue of ownership. After all, Chris Rock was able to joke about a black man being able to portray a donkey or zebra in the animation world and I doubt Crystal would have been able to do the same without some serious backlash.

    Octavia Spencer’s speech was a hot mess, yes, but it was also a lovely moment marred by a shortsighted and cringeworthy jab that underscored how far we have and haven’t come since when The Help took place.

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    Comments

    Comment from Implant Dentar
    Time March 26, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Wel.. i don’t like that guy! he’s just too creppy to watch him!

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