About The Oscars, Quvenzhané Wallis and The Onion Debacle
This post took me a long time to write because I wasn’t even sure I was going to blog about this topic.
I’ve been all up in arms for the past 20 hours. Literally. Like fighting the air at random intervals and everything. Because people have been TRYING it. It started with the Academy Awards and it all went downhill from there.
This is why it’s probably taken me this long to string some words together into a post. I didn’t know what angle to come from about this heated topic because I have so many thoughts and feelings and there are so many issues here. If I had posted about this last night, it woulda just been a gif of someone kicking a table over. This whole thing had to settle in my spirit first. And I had to do all my tantrum-throwing first. If this post still reads like a spell-checked stream of consciousness, my bad.
When they announced the 2013 Academy Award nominees and a little brown girl named Quvenzhané Wallis was selected in the “Best Lead Actress” category for the movie Beasts of a Southern Wild, I (and a lotta others) got excited. She made history by being the youngest nominee up for that award, and even moreso, I was celebrating for the Black girl who rocked!
And then I went and found out how her name is pronounced because that’s A LOT of name. But it’s clearly one that will have staying power if she’s already an Academy Award nominee before she turns 10. It’s pronounced Kwuh-ven-jah-nay.
My main motivation for watching this year’s Oscars was to cheer her on and see if she’d win. Yes, it’s for the shallowest of reasons and I don’t care. GO BLACK GIRL, GO!
But on the road to these Oscars, I’ve been noticing the narrative about little Miss Wallis. Too many stories talked about her name and not much else. We get it. It is hard to say. It is hard to spell. Yes, I know the foreign name struggle is real. But this little girl has told us many times how to say it and we’re still all “GEEZ WHY IS IT SO HARD?!?”
Yesterday, Quvenzhané gets on the red carpet and a reporter asks her if she got her dress from a department store. Another tells her “I’m calling you Annie now” because she’s been cast in that role for a new movie and Little Miss Sunshine tells her “My name is not Annie. It’s Quvenzhané.” YESSS!!! TELL HER! I was side-eying folks for her already.
And then the Oscars happened.
First, I was bored to tears. BORED. TO. TEARS. My tear ducts were so bored that water came out my eyes to entertain them. It was 3.5 hours of snooze and musical numbers. Seth MacFarlane was a terrible host, which I already expected because most Oscars hosts suck. I think Family Guy is hilarious, but when I realized that Seth is actually Peter Griffin in real life, I was all “Oh. I like him better as a cartoon.” He made many jokes that made me squirm and it was like “I dare you to be offended by my blatant sexism because I’m being bold and in your face.” And that was whatever. I was more annoyed than anything.
But one of the jokes that stood out and made me deep sigh was the one he told bout Quvenzhané being almost old enough for George Clooney to date. And I get it. He was making fun of George more than her but still. Ew.
And the night of everyone being complete assholes to a nine year old continued, even after the over-long show wrapped. The Onion won the award for “Put your gahtdamb foot in your mouth, you belligerent asshole” when they called her a cunt.
The Onion. Called a nine year old. A cunt.
I was outdone. OUT.DONE. I was seeing red and I just wanted to cuss so hard, new words would be necessary. The devil is clearly busy.
How do you call a nine year old such a word??? How do you type this out and go “Yes. This rocks!” and press enter? What in the hell is wrong with you? I had many questions and no answers. All I know is the person who hit “send” on that tweet (and everyone else who might have approved it) deserves an epic dropkick.
And my outrage was matched by disgust from so many people who could not understand how that statement was made. And I thought there’d be universal disgust at the Onion’s tweet.
Except there wasn’t. Some folks started tweeting about how everyone was overreacting because we should all know that The Onion does satire and humor. It’s their thing, so we should all chill and let them do it. Also, we all must not know what satire is because it shouldn’t offend us. Oh.
I call bullshit.
We know satire and we get it. Tongue in cheek and all that good stuff. However, you CANNOT hide everything behind the humor lens. You just cannot. HA HA doesn’t exempt you from lacking ALL decency. Not at all. It does not give you a permanent get out of jail free card, nor does it negate the consequences of your words if they are reckless and reprehensible. And that tweet was both to me.
Satire is supposed to be smart and the person telling the joke should not be the only one who gets it. Context is necessary and in this one, the “joke” was the last of too many directed at a little girl who is very much on her path to greatness. But all people can focus on is her name. The satire excuse can go straight to hell here. I’m not here for it.
Quvenzhané has been the brunt of too many jokes ALREADY, so I’m coming from the angle of already being sensitive to the treatment she’s gotten from the media. And then they call her that word, which is even EXTRA harsh to call an adult. Which brings me to the most important piece here.
SHE IS A CHILD. Nine. She is a nine year old child and they called her a cunt. There’s no reason for it. No justification. No excuse good enough. She coulda taken off her shoe on that red carpet and thrown it at someone’s head and they STILL wouldn’t have the right to call her that. Because she’s a child.
But Quvenzhané has shown a lot of class and handled herself very well thus far. She’s everything BUT what they called her. And if that was their “joke” then they failed and did it sooooo poorly. If they wanted to be all “hehehehe” they coulda used another word. “Jerk” or “brat” woulda made us all chuckle. But NAWL. “Cunt” feels incredibly harsh and deliberately brutal. It’s like they discounted her humanity for the sake of a couple of RTs and laughs. In my opinion, it was because of the skin Quvenzhané is in.
Yup. That card. The race card folks say we shouldn’t pull. I can’t help but snatch it out the pile and wave it over my head. That tweet from The Onion feels like an attack on Black girls. Even if it wasn’t their intent, it certainly hurts like it was.
The word “cunt” is not racial but when it’s used to describe a 9-year old who people have been calling cocky just because she’s demanding that her difficult name be pronounced correctly, I can’t help but feel like it’s an attack on her blackhood. How many child stars have been disrespected similarly? Lindsay Lohan. Haley Joel Osment. Drew Barrymore. The Olsen Twins. Abigail Breslin. Which of them was called a cunt at 9? Oh none? Ok. If you can sit up there and say you don’t see ANY racial undertone to the treatment Quvenshané has been getting, then you might be a fool.
Would Suri Cruise ever be addressed like that? HELL NO. Because if she was, every staff member of The Onion would be at the unemployment office before you can say “disrespect.”
Whatever the reason behind the tweet, satire or other complex things I’m simply too simple to understand, I don’t care. Ultimately, when I read that tweet, I was incredibly offended on Quvenzhané’s behalf. The word “cunt.” The fact that she’s 9. The fact that I don’t think her melanin-deficient peers would be treated the same. The fact that this little girl had to tell a reporter not to call her “Annie.” The fact that no matter how huge her accomplishment is, her humanity is still questioned. Because she’s a little brown girl.
And when we defend Quvenzhané vigorously, we’re called overly sensitive and “in our feelings.” It makes my blood boil because who else will defend that girl? Surely, not the white men who are telling us all to chill because The Onion is only doing their job. Surely not the ignoramuses on Twitter and elsewhere saying we all need to just calm down and stop pulling the race card because when something “REALLY RACIST” happens, we aren’t taken seriously.
Miss Wallis isn’t being defended by those of you who think people are always angry for no reason. Those folks who love to revel in their apathy like it’s some sort of badge of honor, when really, it’s proof that they’re self-absorbed cowards. Some people live a life of lowered expectations where they accept supbar treatment from other people and wonder why the rest of us won’t. Shutting up and playing safe never made change. If people didn’t speak out against injustice and prejudice make change, we’d still be in the “black only” line. Being apathetic is not a badge.
I can’t help but defend Quvenzhané because in her, I see my niece. And my future daughter. And my goddaughter. And my cousins. And me. None of them/us/you deserve to be stomped on like that and it hurts my feelings that some people think we can be. In the name of humor. And satire. And not ruffling feathers.
Yes, they eventually deleted the tweet and the CEO of The Onion apologized. Good. He doesn’t get a pat on the back for it because he was SUPPOSED to. The damage is done here though, and The Onion’s tainted for me. Also, the “sorry” still doesn’t take away that sting. This was more than a tweet. It was more like society showing it’s collective ass in 140 characters and the “sorry” should have never been necessary to begin with. Because “cunt” should have never been used to describe this beautiful nine year old girl.
Her name is Quvenzhané Wallis. Learn to say it and spell it correctly. Her name is her name. She is more than the jokes people are telling and she’s greater than this discussion. And I hope she knows that she’s worth the whole entire world and she’s worth defending and respect and love and honor and everything else that’s good.
I might not have said all this best so here are others who knocked it out the ballpark.
Afrobella – Quvenzhané Wallis Deserves Better
For Harriet – For Quvenzhané: Call Me by My Name and “Cunt” Ain’t It
xoJane – An Open Letter to The Onion
Black Girl Dangerous – The Thing About Being A Little Black Girl In the World: For Quvenzhané Wallis
Simply Beez – Quvenzhané Appreciation Day