I was thinking something along the lines of a nice, light, funny, heartwarming post to launch this blog on parenthood and raising a really wonderful yet challenging daughter. And then the Oscars had to go and muck that all up by bringing out my raging inner daddy bear when a few people decided it was open season on a damned 9-year-old girl. (I’m sure it has something to do with the fact my little girl is just two years younger and has roughly the same shade of skin—a color that will to make her an easy target of the ignorant.)
If you haven’t been trapped under a boulder in a remote desert landscape today, you likely know at least some of the hubbub around Best Actress contender Quvenzhané Wallis. Let’s start with the big one, when someone at satirical/humor publication The Onion posted on the @TheOnion Twitter account on the night of the Academy Awards:
Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a cunt, right?
Folks at The Onion did take the tweet down after about an hour, clearly feeling the heat and/or realizing a line had been crossed, though it took them until around noon the next day to manage to issue the apology.
But that wasn’t the only indignity the girl had to endure. Because then there was the reporter who didn’t know how to pronounce Quvenzhané’s name and, instead of asking how to pronounce it or saying Miss Wallis instead, called her by the name Annie (a role the young actress will play in a remake of the musical “Annie” soon).
Oh, and then the Seth MacFarlane joke that either said Quvenzhané will officially be too old for George Clooney in 16 years or that she’ll be too old for him when she’s 16 (I’ve heard conflicting versions, but both are disgusting in the context of a 9-year-old girl).
As if those three things weren’t already enough, how about the Academy voter who gave this quote (anonymously) to The Hollywood Reporter?
“I also don’t vote for anyone whose name I can’t pronounce. Quvez—? Quzen—? Quyzenay? Her parents really put her in a hole by giving her that name — Alphabet Wallis. The truth is, it’s a very sweet but immature performance from a 9-year-old. I’ve directed children. They probably did a thousand takes and put the best ones together.”
I’m going to work backwards from my list, because it’s that “cunt” tweet that’s really in my craw and I need to rev up for that.
So, Anonymous Academy Voter won’t vote for a person whose name he can’t pronounce? I wonder if, when another young actor, white girl Dakota Fanning got a nomination for a Screen Actors Guild Award at age eight in 2002, making her the youngest nominee in history, he would have said, “I can’t vote for someone named after a couple states…and not very good ones at that.” Doubt it. Look, he could have simply said Quvenzhané’s performance didn’t do it for him. But he went the extra mile or two on that 9-year-old to make fun of her name and suggest and assume that the performance he thought was “just OK” must have needed tons and tons of takes to get to that point, meaning he assumes she sucks as an actor, really. Not that he was there to know that a thousand takes were needed or anything.
And a joke that sexualizes a girl not even in double-digits yet, who’s just entering into the limelight thanks to the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild”…really? What the hell is wrong with you, Seth? I don’t recall Kirsten Dunst…another former child actress who was white instead…getting called a slut or ending up the butt of a bunch of bawdy jokes when she did her breakthrough role at 10 as a vampire trapped for centuries in the same childish body she was when she became a vampire. A role in which she had to act like a grown and sexual being at a certain point in the film. A role in which she kissed Brad Pitt, 18 years her senior. That was a role that involved, by necessity, sexualization, and didn’t get her made fun of. Yet we get a strong young black girl in a movie, and we make bawdy jokes about her?
And as if it wasn’t bad enough the reporter decided Quvenzhané’s name was too challenging and used an entirely different one, people were getting on the little girl’s case for correcting that reporter, as if she were making an impertinent reprimand of an adult she shouldn’t dare to challenge. How do you think you’d like it if someone made up a name for you instead of simply asking how to pronounce your given one?
And so we come back to the “cunt” tweet from The Onion. OK, perhaps it was in reference to Quvenzhané correcting the reporter. Maybe that was the inspiration. And you wanted an absurd tweet. So, you couldn’t say something along the lines of “Quvenzhané given a time out backstage at Oscars after talking back to nice reporter” or “Quvenzhané forced to write ‘I won’t correct an adult until I’m 13′ on the red carpet 100 times” or something funnier along such lines? You have to apply “cunt”…a word that should rarely be applied to an adult woman…to a girl of 9? I bet no one called Jodie Foster a cunt in public when she was a child actor. Oh, yeah…another white child actor.
Aiming such a tweet at a sweet-natured, never-done-wrong adult actress might have given it a level of absurd humor. In this context, it was a random insult hurled at a child who came to the Oscars with a puppy purse. That’s something my own girl would do!
And the thing is—and let’s just get this out now early in the blog because I’m the father of two biracial kids, one of them grown now, and racial issues will arise here—that shit I’ve described was racial. As I’ve already hinted by pointing out the white child actors who never got ridiculed and humiliated in public to this degree on the nights they were out at award ceremonies that might honor them with a highly valued statuette.
Did all four events arise from racism? Maybe not. Any one of those four humiliations Quvenzhané endured could have been chalked up to random stupidity or a misstep in the heat of the moment. That is, if any one of them existed alone and in isolation. But four on the same night? The difference between Quvenzhané and other child actors before her at award shows who were treated with respect is that she’s black. Plain and simple.
Too often, we are quick to minimize the accomplishments of black kids. Oh, she got a minority scholarship, not a merit-based one (as if minority scholarships are handed out to all kids of color without a thought as to their potential or grades). Oh, I wonder how many white students weren’t able to come to this school so that the college could get a few colored kids in to meet a quota (as if that handful of white kids were forced to go to vocational school instead). Oh, he’s so well-spoken! (as if being black automatically means you talk jive, funk or ebonics). And so on and so on.
So, a little girl makes a splash in the film world with a role that most people saw as deep, moving, honest and a breakthrough. Whether she’ll be a long-term success, who knows, but she clearly made a mark.
And yet, in the end, this little brown-skinned girl doesn’t get the respect or deference those white actresses got before her. Instead, Quvenzhané becomes Annie the talentless cunt who will be sleeping with George Clooney soon.
I’m disgusted, because my daughter is bright, eager, artistic and brown-skinned, and only two years younger than Quvenzhané…
…and when Hollywood is this ignorant to one of their own in this way, I have all the proof I need that we’re far from post-racial in this country.
And my daughter may need me a lot in the future. Because I guarantee, you call my daughter a cunt, and your crotch (assuming you’re a man) will look like one after I rip off your junk and cram it in your mouth.
OK, now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s see if I can switch to sweet and funny mode tomorrow around here.