Published March 8th, 2016, Media Literacy Now
Whether you watched the Academy Awards or not, we all waited with bated breath to see comedian Chris Rock host and address the #OscarsSoWhite controversy over the award show’s lack of people of color from its nominations to committee composition. While some mainstream media lauded Rock’s hosting as a success, black publications charged Rock with issuing shallow criticisms that scapegoated people of color to pander to the predominately white audience. Perhaps Rock’s greatest failure was in not using the platform to directly engage with the audience and academy itself, without humor. Had he taken a page from the Frederick Douglass textbook, the only casualties of his monologue would have been those most deserving of it.
In “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” Frederick Douglass points out the hypocrisy of Americans celebrating their independence from British rule while still engaging in chattel slavery. While post-racial proponents immediately decry how long ago slavery was and punctuate it with “black president,” the most recent evidence of racial disparity in the realm of American pomp and circumstance lies in the latest of the history of all-white Oscar nominations. At this point, I have to wonder what to the black actor is the Academy Award? Specifically, to those who will surely be called to participate in the pageantry while being omitted from reward ranks, I enjoin them to consider Douglass’ words to his all-white audience: “Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?”