Like many today, I am still grappling to find the words to express my disgust over last night’s turn of the events at the Oscars. Quvenzhane Wallis was the youngest actress ever nominated for a best actress award for her breath taking role in Beasts of the Southern Wild and while she did not win, we won’t be forgetting Wallis anytime soon. Sadly it’s not because of her amazing talent, it’s because on what should have been one of the best nights in her nine years, what we will be remembering is how others decided to show us how little value a little Black girl has in our society.
It’s no secret that in our society women and girls are still routinely subject to second class status and that we are still struggling to be on equal footing. However for Black and Brown women and girls that second class status comes with additional baggage, a history of being blatantly dehumanized and sexualized. Where our bodies are not our own, not even our names belong to us. A world where Black and Brown girls are not even given the same privilege of just being a kid that is extended regularly to their white counterparts and taken for granted.
In a night of horrors, Quvenzhane Wallis was subjected to a reporter who couldn’t be bothered to learn her name and instead thought it cute to refer to Quvenzhane as Annie, the name of the character she will be playing in an upcoming film. For most of us who have lived long enough that type of offense is the price we pay for being different in this society, it’s small, it’s annoying but at a certain point you have to pick and choose your battles lest you end up stroked out. Next up Oscar host Seth McFarland thought it would be a cute joke to make a sexually charged joke involving Quvenzhane and George Clooney “To give you an idea of how young she is, it’ll be about 16 years before she’s too old for Clooney.” Again this is the price of admission when you are a brown and black girl in this society. Yet how many people would care to hear such a joke about their young daughter?
No, the real showstopper on again what should have been an amazing night for an amazing child was The Onion, a satirical newspaper tweeting that Quvenzhane was a real c**t. (normally I have no problem saying a word but that word bugs me on so many levels that I just can’t say it). That tweet sat for an over an hour before it was pulled and The Onion’s CEO, Steve Hannah issued an apology on their Facebook page but not before major news publications and social media put this horrid incident on full blast.
Of course there are many who felt The Onion was just trading in their trademark use of satire but for many including yours truly, there are lines you don’t cross and calling a child a sexually charged word is one of them. No laugh is worth the sexualization and dehumanization of a child. Already there are many who are downplaying the racial side of this unfortunate series of events saying that race should not be a factor but I disagree.
For all our talk of post racial America and using President Obama as proof of how evolved we are as a nation, the fact is there is a historical and documented precedence of how little, Black and Brown bodies are valued in this society. It was not that long ago, that little girls like Quvenzhane were sold on auction blocks, no matter how much we like to pretend that it never happened. No matter how much we want to say that race was not a motivator even on an unconscious level is to ignore the reality that Black and Brown bodies are not valued in this culture. When one looks back on the plethora of child actors, no one can think of another child being subjected to such treatment. Of course not.
However as painful as this event is, I am heartened because one of the greatest equalizers in modern life is social media and the ability for all voices to have a say. Last night and this morning, fellow bloggers, writers, and social media users refused to let this go. Already many pieces have been written by writers far skilled than me including this most awesome letter to Quvenzhane.