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Last week, The Guardian’s Steven W Thrasher blew some favorable air into the #OscarsSoWhite balloon but wasn’t afraid to poke it with needles. He said:
It [#OscarsSoWhite ] wasn’t as successful at solving anything, as it was inadvertently exposing the breadth of the problem through comedy.
… it made me cringe to see those nice, powerful white people laughing at how they withhold jobs – and power – from black people, then walking away with gold.
… Rock walked into the audience to sell Girl Scout cookies for his daughter’s troop. Shaking down the participants for cookie orders, Hollywood’s wealthiest waived bills at little black Girl Scouts to the tune of $65,243. Meanwhile, despite a head start on the air and trending on Twitter, the Justice for Flint fundraiser had, at the same time, raised just $52,000.
Despite its faults, #OscarsSoWhite is a civil rights moment. One reason - it forced the diversity wheels to un-rust, to start their slow grind. This from the Hollywood Reporter:
Since the Oscar nominations were announced Jan. 14, a slew of diverse stories and color-blind castings have gained momentum. Newly announced projects include the young Barack Obama movie Barry and Disney's immigrant story Dr. Q. (Those come on the heels of the record-breaking $17.5 million Sundance deal for Nate Parker's slave drama The Birth of a Nation).
I’ve written that instead of just grinding its “diversity wheels”, Hollywood should launch “diversity rockets” by downsizing the Oscars and rolling the mega-dollars into minority scholarships. It won’t happen, I know this, but you can’t blame me for trying to hit a homerun. Homerun or not, I applaud Hollywood for its efforts …
… even if those efforts aren’t overly bold …
… even if #OscarsSoWhite sits weirdly beneath the civil rights umbrella.
#OscarsSoWhite: A Square Peg in a Round Hole
This month marks the 51st anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. This week, it’s the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the first attempt to march to Montgomery. On Bloody Sunday, police attacked nonviolent, civil-rights protesters, beating them with billy clubs and hospitalizing over fifty people.
All very different from #OscarsSoWhite, where Chris Rock’s commentary on race, the pinnacle of #OscarsSoWhite, fits weirdly between the red carpet extravaganza and the opulent after party. A civil rights moment happened, but the attendees and protestors donned expensive outfits and dined on lobster and caviar.
Or compare Rock’s commentary (and comedy) with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, written a few years before the Selma to Montgomery March. Not only strange setting-wise – Rock’s stage vs. King’s jail cell – also strange in terms of tone.
While Rock quipped,
Hollywood is sorority racist, like, ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’
King somberly noted that,
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
Rock, I’m sure, would never compare himself to King, but the comparison highlights the disparateness between the two speakers. It’s similar to the disparateness between #OscarsSoWhite and the heroic March to Montgomery.
#OscarsSoWhite: A Win of a Different Shape
But are these differences – this strange civil rights fit - a bad thing?
No, not if you think in terms of progress … a glimmer of hope.
The civil rights movement is still a struggle – a violent struggle. Black Lives Matter has been marred by violence. But if #OscarsSoWhite is any indication, civil rights victories can sometimes happen in a better way; that is, outside the vacuum of risk, danger and hostility.
#OscarsSoWhite is an example of progress (even if small), peacefully made, without brutality or inhumanity.
Without the oppression of a Birmingham jail.
Without the Bloody Sunday beating of Amelia Boynton Robinson.