Jimmy Kimmel kicked off the Oscars Sunday night with a joke that perfectly skewered the Trump administration’s treatment of minority groups, and it was met with rapturous applause.
“I want to thank President Trump,” Kimmel quipped. “I mean, remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?”
As political jokes go, Kimmel succeeded in lampooning the problematic systemic treatment of marginalized communities. And he should have stuck with that formula. Instead, his jokes ended up lampooning the marginalized communities themselves.
Against a backdrop of industry diversity wins, the trappings of inculcated nativism behind Kimmel’s jokes felt painfully obvious.
On Twitter, viewers called Kimmel out on some major uncomfortable instances that made ethnic groups feel “othered,” or that they don’t belong. Against a backdrop of industry diversity wins, the trappings of inculcated nativism behind Kimmel’s jokes felt painfully obvious.
Sunday’s awards show saw the most diverse group of recipients in Oscars history. A record number of black stars won. The world celebrated the achievements of “Moonlight.” And the speeches were politically charged, with actors and directors speaking in favor of differences and against divisive walls.
But then Kimmel used Mahershala Ali’s name as the butt of two different jokes.
Kimmel made a comment about the Best Supporting Actor award recipient’s newborn daughter’s name, saying that with a name like Mahershala, “You can’t name her Amy.”
Ali is the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. He adheres to Ahmadiyya, a sect of Islam that has been historically persecuted. So, he could probably have done without Kimmel’s jokes designating him as different, as people on Twitter pointed out.
Kimmel also highlighted Ali’s name when he asked the audience to yell out “Mahershala” during the tour bus skit.
Kimmel also made fun of Asian names during the same skit. When an Asian woman in the tour group told Kimmel her name was Yulree, he turned the joke on her. When Yulree’s husband stated right after that his name was Patrick, Kimmel said: “See, that’s a name.”
In another moment that had some viewers shaking their heads, Kimmel lifted up “Lion” star Sunny Pawar, channeling the iconic “Lion King” scene in which Simba is held up over a cliff. It felt utterly well-intentioned, and the 8-year-old’s reaction even tugged at the heartstrings.
But as some viewers pointed out, the image of Kimmel, a white host, holding up a brown child who doesn’t speak English as a prop in a skit with African-inspired music playing has racial undertones that are impossible to ignore.
These instances of cultural insensitivity were reminiscent of last year’s awards when racist jokes against Asians played out on the Oscars stage. The Academy apologized after the fact.
It seems that instead of reactive apologies, there’s a more proactive solution: More diversity is needed behind the scenes and among show stakeholders. Hollywood will hopefully continue to give us even more reasons to celebrate diversity at awards shows in the future. The last thing we need is for the shows themselves to detract from that in the future.
So in other words, no more recaps like this, please: