Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, December 15, 2018

What Jimmy Kimmel’s Oscar performance says about the racial dichotomy in the arts

What Jimmy Kimmel’s Oscar performance says about the racial dichotomy in the arts

Recently, I sat in my living room and watched a mediocre white man destroy what should have been an uninterrupted celebration of the success and excellence that artists of color displayed this year. Since I am not a person of color, I will not try to attest to what the successes and blunders of the Oscars meant to different communities. Rather, I will try to dissect how Jimmy Kimmel’s Oscar host performance revealed how far off we as a society are from understanding, never mind dismantling, white supremacy. 

The decision to have Kimmel host the Oscars already showed Hollywood’s inability to fully celebrate people of color. This year, there were a considerable number of POC nominated for awards, and yet one of the many white, mediocre late-night show hosts was the one to comment on their successes and to make jokes on their behalf. 

It is not uncommon for Academy Awards hosts to use the artists as comedic material; however, Kimmel’s jokes were constructed in a way that reminded them that they were “different.” This was evident when he commented on the “otherness” of Mahershala Ali’s name directly after he won best supporting actor for “Moonlight.” The same thing happened later in the night when Kimmel brought in members of the public, the “common man” if you will, and paraded them around a room full of the elite.

He dismissed a name he couldn’t pronounce and then declared “Patrick” a more suitable one. In the midst of Kimmel’s blatant racism and classism, he made Trump jokes -- a trope that is overdone, low-hanging fruit and practically monopolized by SNL. But this is the way many white people operate: to dismiss the importance and achievements of POC while keeping up allyship appearances. 

The idea that there is a real and present need for white influence has always been a pervasive concept throughout Hollywood, especially in movies such as “The Blind Side,” which promotes a “white savior” narrative. These movies may tell touching stories about unity and success, but they still perpetuate the idea that people of color need a white person to make all their dreams possible. 

“The Blind Side” did not focus on the successes of Michael Oher and how he felt about them but rather focused on his life through the lens of a white woman. We saw her life, her emotions and her reactions instead of his. In the end, it was made sure that we saw that she was a good person.

When people of color create works such as “Moonlight,” that are unquestionably unique to the African-American experience and unable to be imitated by white artists, it is common for white people to interject themselves in some way. Whether it is commenting on the actor’s name or ruining the moment of success by accidentally naming the white-centric movie first, white people are constantly putting in the last word. 

While these actions may be unintentional, it was painfully clear that Kimmel was unsure of how to navigate non-white spaces. His constant mention of other white men, such as Matt Damon, for comradery and material made this clear. However, the fact that he couldn’t see what he was doing and that the Academy chose him to host makes clear that there is still a lack of knowledge about white supremacy in Hollywood, thus perpetuating it. White folks, it is on us to take a back seat and understand when we are co-opting other communities’ experiences. 

Julia Gagnon is a sophomore in the School of International Service and a columnist for The Eagle.

jgagnon@theeagleonline.com


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