Commentary Media

And the Oscars Go To: Sexism, Racism, Homophobia, and Anti-Semitism

Debra Haffner

When I turned on the Oscars Sunday, I expected fashion, a spectacle, and maybe some frat-boy humor. I had no idea how willfully offensive the host would be.

Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve looked forward to the Academy Awards. I know that the shows are long and sometimes tedious, but I love movies and enjoy seeing the fashion hits and misses. I still remember the year of the streaker and the various political protests presenters have made.

So I anticipated Sunday night’s show with pleasure, and I had no thought of tweeting, sermonizing, or blogging about it. (I did blog a few years ago, when Brokeback Mountain won and same-sex spouses started thanking each other publicly at awards shows.)

I admit I had to Google Seth McFarlane at the beginning of the program; I thought he was the weekend anchor from Saturday Night Live. When I saw he writes Family Guy, I knew we might be in for some frat-boy humor.

What I was not prepared for was being inundated with so-called humor laced with sexism, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. There was a domestic violence joke, a gun violence joke, and an eating disorder joke. There was even the sexualization of a 9-year-old girl.

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What’s worse is that MacFarlane knew exactly how offensive his material was. The skit with William Shatner beaming in from the future to prevent MacFarlane from bombing clearly showed that the writers and host knew much of the audience would be offended. This wasn’t unconscious cultural incompetence; it was actively trying to make us laugh by offending us. It rose to the level of conscious incompetence. I keep asking myself how this was allowed to happen in 2013, with a global audience of nearly a billion people.

What’s also remarkable is that the audience at the Kodak Theater put up with it. Yes, there were a few gasps and horrified expressions throughout MacFarlane’s performance. But instead of cutting to the audience during the revolting opening dance number about women baring their breasts in films (which the actresses presumably did because the role required it, not so we could stare at their bodies), the Oscars team showed pre-taped reaction shots from actresses pretending to be outraged. It’s as if the producers wanted to make the joke and get a pass at the same time—“these women are in on the joke, so it can’t be that bad.” The gay men’s chorus did not redeem the joke; instead, it underscored the sexism with the implication, “You did it, and we weren’t even turned on.” 

Perhaps the second most cringe-worthy moment of the night was MacFarlane’s introduction of Salma Hayek. The host quipped that this was the point in the night when Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, or Salma Hayek get up on stage and the audience doesn’t care that it couldn’t understand them because they are so beautiful. In other words, this was the moment in the evening to sexualize Latino actors and make fun of the fact that English is not their first language. I hoped for some protest to emerge and wished, improbably, that the Jaws theme would come on during McFarlane comments and play him off stage. I can only imagine what Michelle Obama must have been thinking as she watched the evening unfold, knowing she soon would appear.

I also kept thinking about the children at home who were watching the telecast with their families. It would have been a night of “teachable moments,” and I can only hope that parents took the time to talk about how important it is to treat all people with respect and that it’s never appropriate to make fun of people in hurtful ways.

Several commentators have pointed out that the show was exactly what we should have expected, and that we should have protested back when MacFarlane was chosen. But there was every reason to think that he would have risen to the occasion and used his considerable skills to create an entertaining show for everyone.

Shame on the producers. Shame on the writers. Shame on the news media that covered who won and what they were wearing without commenting on the outrageousness of the attacks on women and people of color or the offensive humor.

We deserve an apology. And they should make it up to us: #AmyAndTina2014.

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