“I was confronted by the same rising anxiety all Black people feel when the face that flashes up on the news after a crime is reported is a Black one.”
The repercussions of Best Actor winner Will Smith attacking presenter Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars are still being felt by Hollywood, especially Black stars.
Emmy nominee David Oyelowo published a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter detailing the ripple effect of the now-infamous Oscars slap. Oyelowo has been a bystander to a number of dramatic episodes at the Oscars, from “Selma” being snubbed for Best Actor and Best Director igniting #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 to his viral reaction to “La La Land” being mistakenly announced Best Picture.
“But like most of us, nothing could have prepared me for what was to come,” Oyelowo wrote of the 94th annual Oscars. “As a Black man in the public eye, you are constantly aware of the fact that your very existence is political. You are consistently in a state of either being used as an example to perpetuate or debunk a stereotype. Those stereotypes are tied to criminality, civility, education, sexual prowess, poverty, social responsibility, and so much more. It’s a burden I have to accept despite it being exhausting in nature.”
Oyelowo added, “The moment I slowly realized the nature of what had just occurred on the stage at the Dolby Theater, I was confronted by the same rising anxiety all Black people feel when the face that flashes up on the news after a crime is reported, is a Black one. You find yourself thinking, ‘What does this mean for us?’ ‘What does that mean for me?’”
Following the Oscars, Oyelowo was confronted at an after-party by an older white gentleman who had “relish in his demeanor” while saying that Smith “should have been dragged right out of there.”
Oyelowo commented, “You may well agree with that sentiment, but it’s not what he said, it’s the way he said it. I know that relish. I know that demeanor, and it is ugly to its core in all of its coded messaging.”
The “Midnight Sky” actor added that the Academy has made “great gains” since #OscarsSoWhite, especially to “improve its disgracefully uneven racial and gender demographics.”
Yet Oyelowo warned of just how Smith’s altercation could impact that progress.
“It would be naive to assume that the incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock will not be pushed, by some industry professionals, through the lens of race,” Oyelowo continued. “Some of them will be the same folks who resisted the inclusion measures Cheryl Boone Isaacs and her supporters at the Academy managed to push through and which led to a more diverse Academy…In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the entertainment industry made a lot of pledges to increase the diversity of our business. Some intentional. Some ceremonial. My fear is that this unfortunate incident, which has us all processing, will have a negative effect on the ongoing push for inclusion.”
He added, “There are those who, in a bid to make sure something of this nature never happens again, will operate through an unconscious — or conscious — bias. A bias that still governs so much of the decision-making in Hollywood. It would be tragic if a bid to prevent such an incident from happening again becomes an excuse for ideas about inclusion and diversity to backslide. That would only confirm the disingenuous nature of some of these pledges in the first place. This incident should not be a springboard for proxy arguments in Hollywood circles about race, respectability and belonging.”
Oyelowo concluded that while the “unfair” attack on Rock and the overshadowing of the Oscars night as a whole “cannot be overstated,” there needs to be an acknowledgment of the other half of this discussion.
“Let’s not forget that there is a disposition exemplified by the man who approached me at that after-party,” Oyelowo ended. “His gossipy lean and the half smile on his face is indicative of what must not be allowed to creep into the aftermath of this incident. We must be vigilant against decision making that would detrimentally affect the gains made by the likes of The Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs and all of those fighting for a more diverse, inclusive and equitable entertainment industry and world.”
Read the full op-ed here.