“We are a racist country.” They’re simple words that speak the obvious truth, but sometimes we all need a good slap in the face to remember who we are. It’s ludicrous to tout ourselves as having overcome racism or sexism when evidence to the contrary surrounds us every single day, but perhaps we can kick off a self-help program with that proverbial first step: admitting we have one.
When the first African American woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress is Halle Berry in 2001 (Forest Whitaker was the last Best Actor to win ), and for the second year running there are no black actors nominated in any category, things in Hollywoodland have become too overt to ignore. It’s not like the myriad shootings aren’t screaming in our faces, but as a nation we tend to pay more attention to celebrities than to our fellow regular folks. When a longtime actor flat out says (what we already know) something about our society, it’s nearly as big news as when police gun down another “equal” citizen. As you may have caught in recent headlines (or from hanging around your own relatives), there appears to be an an age of major don’t-give-a-fuckery; while we’d like to gag a couple of the nonsensical ramblers, Danny DeVito isn’t one of them. The 71-year old It’s Always Sunny star is head-on addressing our racist truth, calling us out on our bullshit and perhaps propelling a little forward movement on that “admitting our problem” step. At Sundance to promote Weiner-Dog (Todd Solondz), DeVito spoke frankly to the Associated Press about the Academy bullshit.
“There were some good performances by people of color, and yeah, it’s blatant. We do live in a racist country. We have to evolve and have to realize that truth and reconciliation is here, too—it’s not only in South Africa or Cambodia. Young people have to learn what happened in our history, and we need people to know that we’re walking on the boards of genocide.
This is a place where people settled in and they came to be called Native Americans. Now all of a sudden these big ships appear out of the blue like demons in the daylight, and everything changed. Genocide happened and we’re all in it. But we can’t lean on that xenophobia. We need to understand what happened and realize that we’re all human beings who are cut from the same cloth.”
Yeah, it might sting a little but some serious self-examination could do us a world of good right about now, and if Danny DeVito wants to hold up that magnifying mirror so closely we can’t help but see, good on him.
Likewise, with Chris Rock hosting the Academy Awards again we were already anticipating the joyride that is Rock throwing our bullshit in our own faces, and apparently the comedian has decided even he needs to double down. Instead of — as some suggested — boycotting the ceremony, Rock intends to amp up his hosting performance with a rewritten monologue that will hopefully shock the Academy to its lily white core. According to the AA show producer, Reginald Hudlin, Rock will very specifically “dive into the fire” of the “whitewashed nominees.”
“Chris is hard at work. He and his writing staff locked themselves in a room. As things got a little provocative and exciting, he said, ‘I’m throwing out the show I wrote and writing a new show.’
Chris is that thorough. He’s that brilliant, and I have 1000 percent confidence that he will deliver something that people will be talking about for weeks.”
Well, let’s hope quite a bit longer than that. It’s not that we expect Rock or DeVito to change the outlook of our entire nation, but Hollywood is — in some manner — a microcosm of our country. By continuously shoving that ugly reflection in our own faces through the medium in we choose to view ourselves, a necessary dialogue is forced. Inexplicably, we ignore the people falling in our streets, but when our favorite actors or comedians start talking, we pay attention. We might be one step forward and two (or ten) back, and with the help of a few well-spoken celebrity friends, maybe we can stop just standing in place.
If you’ve never read Chris Rock’s incredible essay on Hollywood’s Race Problem, do that right now.