Let’s Be Clear: The Real Issue With the Oscars Was EXCLUSION, Not DIVERSITY
I first watched the Oscars in 1983. My brothers, parents and I were on a family vacation, and the film “Gandhi” was up for multiple awards. As Indian immigrants, we cared about this movie that portrayed the story of the country’s most transformative historical figures. There was a feeling of pride and excitement to witness an Indian story told on an epic, global scale. We were visiting from Belize, where we lived, worked, and studied at the time. The Oscars were happening in a Los Angeles far removed from the motel room in which we were watching the ceremony. But we felt joy and satisfaction when “Gandhi” swept the ceremony — the burst of pride that can only be experienced by people long oppressed and systematically excluded.
With my personal backstory in mind, I understand much of the emotion over what happened before and during the 88th Oscars ceremony on Sunday.
But I am deeply frustrated at the way identity politics played out in Hollywood, and in the Twitterverse. Because this wasn’t an issue of diversity — and to suggest so reduces the issue and misses the point.
Let’s start with Chris Rock’s powerful but deeply flawed opening monologue. If there was ever an opportunity to broaden the conversation about our exclusion crisis — in front of hundreds of millions of viewers, to boot — not just from the Oscars but from every American power structure, this was it. With his inimitable brand and tough, unsparing humor, Rock could have shone a spotlight on the exclusion experienced by every non-white American group including Asians, Native Americans and Latinos as well as African Americans. Rock should have talked about a new America not just absent from the Oscars but largely absent from the stories told by Hollywood and at the tables of entertainment power. And the Twitterverse rightfully challenged him on an opportunity lost.
But Chris Rock should not shoulder the blame that many people of color share — our inability to find common ground and build solidarity around our ongoing exclusion and the constant assault on our collective psyches. What we do instead is find solace in our own communities. Last night, we prided ourselves at the accomplishments of South Asians and Latinos where we could find them, and expressed frustration at Chris Rock’s dismaying use of Asian stereotypes.
Ethnic pride is no small thing. It’s the crutch we need, especially at a time when our national leaders and law enforcement are leading attacks on our communities. Not to mention the Oscars’ lame attempts to “address” #Oscarssowhite with a Jack Black skit and uncomfortable laughter about lynchings.
I get the need to protect our own, solidify home base. But people of color are only a majority if we’re together. Alone, in our ethnic silos, we’ll just end up fighting each other while white elites get to have their cake and eat it too — and eat ours while they’re at it.