No, What Sean Penn Said Is Not Okay

Penn's joke wasn't just intemperate--it's indicative of a refusal to accept the coming societal shift


It's the year 2015. And at a storied Hollywood institution like the 87th Academy Awards, a certain amount of decorum is expected. The star-studded event is one of the highest rated television events of the year and garners the lavish attention of advertisers that depend on the capital the event and its attendees generate. Put simply, it is a machine and, seeing as how receipt of an Oscar is the apex of achievement in Hollywood, an almost sacred event. It is where one goes to be both seen and respected--because they matter.

So imagine the expressions of shock and surprise that rippled like a shockwave through the media and entertainment worlds Sunday night as Alejandro González Iñárritu, accepting an Oscar--nay, his Academy Award, from The Academy--was subjected to ridicule and discrimination by Sean Penn on national TV.

Welcome to 2015!

Penn was on stage to announce the Best Picture win for Iñárritu's critically acclaimed 'Birdman.' The celebrated American director--who is of Latino, specifically Mexican descent--had moments earlier been lauded as one of the best, an elite among elites at the pinnacle of his craft.

Some are probably scanning this page for a YouTube link of the comment in question. But is not necessary to reprint Penn's patently unfunny attempt at humor here. Joke or no it was, at best, a feeble attempt at the kind of comedic timing best left to a Anjelah Johnson or Carlos Mencia.

The irony, of course, is that its becoming increasingly weird to be white, not Latino or Latina, in Hollywood. Dominican blowout hairstyles, streaks, chunky wedges, the polo and blazer combo--these are blatant cultural appropriations, and in the case of the footwear and clothing, favorites of upper-middle class first generation Hispanics who have not assimilated American culture so much as they continually refashion it.

Indeed, by 2020, it will likely be a severe disadvantage in many of the major urban centers to be purely white. In an Associated Press feature in 2013, it was projected that "non-Hispanic whites will lose their majority in the next generation, somewhere around the year 2043." Just around the bend. No wonder Penn and his intellectual--and ideological brethren--are upset.

Speaking to Huffington Post's Carolina Moreno in 2014, Demi Lovato explained that as a Latina "I'm really proud of [my heritage], especially the way that the Latin community is kind of taking over and rising above's just a part of who I am, and I couldn't be more proud to represent that." Expanding on why she believed the entertainment industry would increasingly diversity out of necessity, Lovato exclaimed, "Definitely...we're taking over, so it's just a matter of time, especially in California," the star added with a smirk. "It's exciting to see a younger demographic, [stars like] Bella Thorne, Selena [Gomez] and I -- it's exciting to see the younger generation embracing their culture." A culture, I'd note, is increasingly emulated by young white girls and boys, to the extent that Disney's notoriously fickle marketing adapted to this reality.

There is no mistake. There is no mistake in discrimination and racist thought. Penn meant to demean an entire ethnicity and culture, and it should be met with derision and scorn. No one is laughing with you, sir. Rather, we are laughing at you. The only mistake is that old, largely Caucasian men cannot feel the tectonic plates of ethnic makeup and ethnic redistribution grinding beneath their heels. The world, it seems, is no longer theirs. The world has changed. The faces in it have changed. And they are unhappy about it.

There is a bright side to consider-- no one considers Sean Penn a comedian. Although, if this is what we can expect from his tenure as a senior statesman inside Hollywood, perhaps it may be time to revisit that.