Leading up to yesterday’s Oscars, much of the criticism directed toward the awards ceremony centered around the fact that the nominees this year were overwhelmingly white (every single one of the acting nominations was filled by a white actor) and predominantly male, and we were once again reminded that the academy itself is 93% white and 76% male. And lest anyone think that it was mere coincidence that African-Americans were shut out of most nominations, or that Selma‘s director was snubbed and left out of her nominating category, The Hollywood Reporter had an illuminating interview with an anonymous academy voter who revealed that—at least in the mind of one member of the academy—a film like Selma never had a chance because 12 Years a Slave won last year. And so, I guess if there’s one thing we learned leading up to the ceremony, it was to never say Hollywood isn’t a true reflection of America!
But, of course, a big question on people’s minds last night had to be how—if at all—the show would address the fact that actors like David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo were missing from the nominee list. Would anything be said? And who would say it? Well! That question was answered right off the bat when Neil Patrick Harris—maybe the most mediocre Oscars host we’ve ever seen; way, way worse than a James Franco-Anne Hathaway shit show—opened up the evening’s entertainment by welcoming the “best and the whitest” (pan to Benedict Cumberbatch because damn he’s white?) to the evening’s festivities. Like many (all?) of Harris’s jokes last night, this one fell flat. As well it should! Because here’s the thing, when privileged white people make jokes seemingly at their own expense, as if “haha, we are white but also get how awful white hegemony is” they are doing two reprehensible things at once: One) They are appropriating people of color’s ability to make the same jokes by doing them from a much bigger platform; and Two) By engaging in an important conversation in an irreverent way, they are implicitly undermining the validity of complaints of white, male dominance. So, yeah. This was a terrible joke. (For more on why white people should
maybe totally stop joking about how privileged white people are, please read Jazmine Hughes’s excellent “How Many White People Does It Take to Ruin a Good Joke?“)