White Erasure of Racism and the 2017 Oscars

 

hidden-figures

“We don’t discriminate against people based on what countries they come from — we discriminate against them based on their age and weight,” Jimmy Kimmel stated in his opening monologue. His audacious claim whizzes right by racism and sexism– Racism being the elephant in the room that magically stole the card for “Best Picture -Moonlight” in an unprecedented Academy slight towards a critically-acclaimed film.

Despite the historic amount of “black” films being nominated (18, with 5 winning,) there is real, constructive criticism about how “black” these films really are. A look at the white directors, white producers, white writers, and a majority of white crew behind the cameras of these and virtually all the other films nominated reveals that we are not as far in fighting racism as we would like to see ourselves.

A perfect example of this racism erasure is the insertion of a fictional white saviour into Hidden Figures, as pointed out by Da’Shawn Mosley. While this film is acclaimed for its historical accuracy, the white screenwriter of Ms. Margot Lee Shetterly’s book decided to take creative license in making it more palatable to white audiences. In his adaptation, the boss, Al Harrison, takes a crowbar to the segregated bathroom at NASA and also invited Katherine Johnson to the control room to view the historic space flight. In reality, and in Shetterly’s book, these doors remained closed to Ms. Johnson for the entirety of her career at NASA.

While we have seen a sweep of nominations of films with black protagonists this year, I can only wonder if we will see a “white-lash” as we have recently in culture, politics, and society. First with the Hugo awards. Then with the post-Obama white-lash that carried and inflamed (still ignites) xenophobic violence across the US. Now we have a step in the right direction for Hollywood, and one can only hope that we do not see a similar pattern of push-back. 

Sources:

  • Transcript of Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue for the 2017 Oscars, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/jimmy-kimmel-s-opening-monologue-transcript-oscars-2017-980304
  • “A discussion of Blackness in 2016 films and this year’s Oscars,” facilitated by Foundry UMC’s Racial Justice Ministries Team. Panelists: Tim Gordon, Oscar-winner Russell Williams II
  • “Hidden Racism” by Da’Shawn Mosley, https://sojo.net/articles/hidden-racism

 

 

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