January 25, 2009 admin

So I just looked at the Oscar nominations. I would have done so sooner, but that would require me giving a damn, which I just can’t make myself do. Eh, just never watched a lot of movies growing up, so it’s not something I do religiously like other people. The hype around the Oscars befuddles me, especially when everyone knows IT’S AN INDUSTRY AWARD SHOW, MEANING ASS KISSING FUELS THE VOTING AS MUCH, IF NOT MORE, THAN ANYTHING ARTISTIC. You people with Oscar pools are, essentially, betting on professional wrasslin’. Vegas doesn’t take best on wrasslin’, so you might not wanna bet on Oscar.
Anyway, I saw the nominees for Best Supporting Actor, and I saw the two best supporting performances I saw in theaters this past year — Heath Ledger as The Joker in “The Dark Knight” and Robert Downey Jr. as a white man playing a black man in blackface in “Tropic Thunder.”
I saw a lot of people were up in arms about Downey’s role before they even saw the film, reflexively upset with blackface.  Of course, most of those shortsighted people see Dave Chappelle dressed as a white man and see no problem.  We call those people “hypocrites.”
I don’t find blackface to be necessarily offensive.  I find cartoonish blackface to be offensive, and I think a lot of people have forgotten THAT is the problem.  One issue with a significant portion of the population is that, rather than figuring out why some of the things they used to do were racist, they just avoid the stuff all together.  Aside from being outright intellectually lazy, we’ve lost some great shit because people were too stupid to be able to try to push limits.
That’s right.  The issue here is being STUPID.  You can joke about anything you want if you have some clue of what you’re talking about.  That’s the key.  For when you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’ve got to go to defaults…and that’s when you get in trouble.
Why?  Because there are very, very few default jokes about black people that aren’t patently offensive.  The default is going to be the stereotype, right?  Well, go ahead and name one positive stereotype of black people that doesn’t involve athletics, music, and laying pipe.  I bet it’s harder than you think it is.
And, since so many people in this country don’t know a damn thing about black people, they can’t joke about them.  That’s fine with me.  You’re not supposed to joke about stuff if you don’t know what you’re talking about.  Sounds fair to you, right?
Blackface stuff like Al Jolson and the minstrel shows were problematic because the joke wasn’t on the stereotype.  The joke WAS the stereotype.  Hey, let’s laugh at how big and red black people’s lips are!  How funny is that?
Not so funny if you’re black and you’ve got big lips, I’d assume.  It’s even less funny if you’re black and don’t have big lips, by the way.
That isn’t close to what we had in “Tropic Thunder.”  The character was an Australian method actor playing a black soldier in a flick about Vietnam, but he was one of those guys that didn’t break character EVER.  So the whole time, there’s Robert Downey Jr. with an Afro, talking like an extra from Shaft.  Is the dude playing on stereotypes?  Of course…and that’s the point!  The joke is on the ridiculous idea that people have about black folks, that what they see on television gives them enough information to decide how black people are.  Twas a Chappellean move — laughing at how preposterous the dominant stereotype is, all while those that buy into it laugh at it like it’s real life, allowing the first set of laughers to laugh even harder (before crying).
The character, start to finish, was hilarious.  If you’ve ever hung around a poser, you understand the phenomenon they’re playing on in the movie.  Ben Stiller & Co. (gasp!) knew what they were talking about, so they could create an edgy character.  I applaud them, because it took a certain confidence to do that, and a serious mind to figure out how to pull it off.
Now, here’s why I’m not surprised Downey got a nomination — because to pull this off without some idiot crying racism without thinking for a second, you gotta put in an Oscar-worthy performance.  It has to be dead right at all points…and it was.
You tend to get it dead right when you know what you’re talking about, and recognize where not to go.
We’re about to hear more inappropriate stuff about black people in the next four years than we’ve heard in a quite a long time.  A lot of it will be from the morons that still can’t grasp that one of them is President.  But much of it will be from people that want to tell good-natured jokes about the President but are too stupid, ignorant and racist to understand they just can’t go there.
They can go there once they…learn something about black people!  First step, of course, is to recognize that, if you don’t know shit about black people, you don’t know shit about black people.  Nothing is nothing.  Dispose of all those things you thought you knew, that which you claim is “nothing,” then move from the ground up.
If you do that, I guarantee you’ll be able to have the kind of fun with black folks that black folks get to have with white people.  Though many wish they didn’t, black folks know an awful lot about white folks.  It’s just not the same in reverse.
Wouldn’t be so bad if people realized their lack of knowledge or, God forbid, actually cared enough to listen.  To those that don’t listen — play fair and don’t talk.
Or just step your game up.  Everyone wins if you do.

Comments (7)

  1. ashazee

    because i couldn’t articulate these sentiments (with their labrinth like simplicity), i found myself watching said movie, laughing out loud, and then guiltily looking over my shoulder for the “conscious black folk” police to give me a citation for ‘failure to react with ire to racial insensitivity’. yes, such a citation exists.

  2. david wood

    the thing that kills me the most is, “Why is Barack Obama considered, black?” that being said, “Why are people of mixed races considered the minority race, even though they are of two races?” i kinda know the answer. it is for census purposes. keeping track of us is easier when you are put into different catagories. why can’t we just check a box that says HUMAN BEING. this pisses me off so much. i am white and i hate checking the box that says caucasian. i just check other. lets see what happens if we all check other. this kind of thing promotes racial division and angst. this is the time for everyone to come together and learn more about each other. love is the answer, hate only closes your mind.

  3. Tazzee

    I just watched Tropic Thunder this past weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed Downey’s performance and I agree with your sentiments….but I still don’t think it was Oscar worthy.
    This is coming from someone that loves movies and wants to believe that the Oscars are based on talent and not azz kissing….

  4. jaedalaurez

    I loved Downey’s performance- I think it was the best part of the entire movie- and yes, people who complained about it, often had never seen the movie, so they had no idea of the context.
    Of course the Oscars are about ass kissing- Variety and the LA Times are filled with huge ads “For Your Consideration”…whatever. I just sit back, enjoy the dresses on the red carpet preshow (which is really the interesting part IMO), then I turn it to whatever else is on.

  5. Toy

    Honestly, I couldn’t sit through Tropic Thunder. I will say however, that when I saw the trailer, it was the robert Downey Jr. part that made me want to see the movie, I thought it was hilarious. I didn’t think the Blackface was comparable to minstrel comedies, or something to be up in arms about. I was more disgusted and embarassed about the music video in the beginning by the black guy (don’t know his name). I don’t really have anything profound to say…Just that “it’s not that deep”
    I’m just saying, no one’s mad about Elizabeth Taylor playing Cleopatra.

  6. N/A

    While I agree with some of the points made here; namely that Downey’s character portrayal was not offensive. If it held any offense it would be toward those that feel they subrogate that which they really do not understand. In that case and point would they even get the real joke? This isn’t necessary a “black/white” issue either. This deals with anyone feeling that they can easily step into someone’s shoes without prior knowledge of them. Too often is truth spared for the wanton need to “not offend”. I would rather have someone say something derogatory to me to make their point quickly, rather than to dance around the issue for hours to spare my feelings. I prefer honesty over lies. Regardless of what’s being said. I do not have to agree with everything I hear or see; therefore why should I find offense in it? The other issue here is how do we define what is deemed offensive? Wouldn’t taking offense at something be a very personalized ideology depending on what was said/done along with how the individual was raised along with cultural ties? I know that coming from D.C. and now living in the rural areas of Virginia that where I came from, how people spoke, acted, communicated, looked, etc. is not the way most people are around me now. Do I blame others for what they say if it offends me? or do I realize that I choose to be offended. Whose fault is it? Too often today do we candy coat ourselves for the masses, walking on eggshells afraid of our own shadows. The other main point I’d like to make is Kudos for the use of “Black” in lieu of “African American”. I’ve always had a problem with the term African American; mainly because it is dishonest and seems almost to reinforce stereotypes. I had a roommate named Dru Habwe. He was born in Kenya and now is an American Citizen. I would consider him African American. Born in Africa/Citizen now in America/Citizen. African-American. If you were born here in America and you still live here then you are American plain and simple. If you feel the need to define your particular color, shade, sex, orientation, etc. then thats on you. As far as I am concerned Obama is our President. He is not our “black” President he is our President. In the same way that Biden is our Vice-President. He is not our white Vice-President he is our Vice-President. If we live in America than we are Americans. Plain and simple. Fighting about these same old sideline issues are pointless especially considering the state of our nation. We need to work together as Americans to find a resolution to solve the problems that plague us all. Just my $.02.

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