Monday, March 28, 2022

We're Not Talking About Bruno

About last night...

I shouldn't even take up your time with my Monday quarterbacking because I've already seen the back and forth on social media, so I know nobody is all that interested in my long-winded opinionating. But come on, y'all this is what I do. So let's get into this.

I went onto the Facebook page to post my initial reaction, but I hit the wrong button and it all disappeared. I logged on again this morning with the intention of posting my quick thoughts but trying to distill everything about that telecast into a few paragraphs is impossible. And that actually has nothing to do with Will, unless you are talking about Will Packer.

Because that man is the real star!

I spent half of the day trying to help my daughter with a school project. Thankfully, it was not the kind that required a mad dash to the store for supplies, but it did involve some last-minute Type A Busy Black Momming (which is a topic we will revisit later). Therefore, I was exhausted by 8pm and briefly tuned into the Oscars telecast during the opening monologue. I had not planned to watch the show at all because I assumed that I hadn't seen enough of the films. I switched the channel right after the joke about three hostesses being paid less than a single male host. So forgive me, but that means I missed Beyonce...

I switched back just in time to see Ariana DeBose accept the first statuette of the evening for Best Supporting Actress. It was a moment for me, and I was so moved by the trajectory of her career in such a short period of time. Just a few years ago, she was a chorus dancer in Hamilton! I half-watched for the next half hour and then got all gooey again when Troy Kotsur, a deaf actor, won for Best Supporting Actor. It was moving to see the presenter, Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung, who won the Best Supporting Actress award last year, sign his name before announcing it. Then his speech got me all emotional, and I thought, wow, this is how Hollywood is supposed to look.

I do not recall the exact sequence of subsequent events, but I know that there were tributes to White Men Can't Jump, the James Bond franchise, and The Godfather. I wondered if Al Pacino and Robert De Niro were okay with having gotten dressed just to walk out on-stage and not say anything. I did not notice that Wesley Snipes wasn't wearing pants. I did not tweet out which Bond was my favorite (Sean Connery, but I grew up with Roger Moore so he's always a sentimental fave). I'm glad Tiffany Haddish didn't have to wear that same white dress again. I don't know why Regina Hall called Tyler Perry to the stage for that COVID test bit because I didn't think we were checking for him like that. But we are checking for Simu Liu. 

I think all of that occurred before the slap. After the slap, Questlove won an Oscar. I think we need to applaud that because that brother is so multi-talented and so incredibly unassuming about it. Like, yeah, I directed a documentary that won an Oscar, and that was my first time trying that. I am going back to work tomorrow on the Jimmy Fallon Show right after I spin a Prince set of B-sides on my IG live. Did I mention that I have another book coming out on Friday? Does that dude sleep?!

The In Memoriam segment was wedged in there, and I don't think folks were ready for that level of Blackness. Because we don't do sad when people die. Black people have elaborate rituals that celebrate life, and literally hours earlier, I was joking with a friend about this tweet and how only on Black Twitter would this even be a debate (whether the food is better at a baby shower, a wedding, or a repast).

So now, let's go back to deal with the slap. My immediate assumption was that it was just another corny Oscar bit. The way Chris Rock stood there during Smith's approach was just too calm for me to think otherwise. And even though the sound went out and we could only read Will's lips, I still assumed that this was a bit because in true live performance fashion, the show went on. Rock shook his head and regained his composure like that scene in the Terminator 2 when dude's head re-forms and casually announced Questlove's award. 

Leave it to Diddy to reveal that it wasn't an awkward bit. That and the fact that the rest of the world outside of that room saw the unedited clip and folks were posting it on social media. Thus, for the remainder of the night and all day today, that was all we were talking about. 

This was supposed to be Will Smith's night, but it was Will Packer's night first. And CODA's night. And everybody who got a cameo in the live performance of We Don't Talk About Bruno. After the week we just had, no, that was not the way to #protectBlackwomen on a national stage and expect that folks would accept that as an explanation. Was that really about Jada's bruised pride or about Will's over-inflated ego? Because I know for damn sure that he never would have rolled up on Jimmy Kimmel for making a similar bad joke. And it wasn't cool to suggest that this was all an exercise in Method acting, as if the spirit of Richard Williams (who is very much alive) took over and decided that all of the disrespect his daughters faced since they were children needed to be unleashed on Chris Rock's face. 

No sir. 

It was a bad joke. I don't know whether Chris Rock intended to poke fun of Jada Pinkett Smith's alopecia, and I agree that people make all kinds of cheap jokes at women's expense. We are easy targets, and as we know from last week, the expectation is that we sit there and take the abuse with a smile. Jada rolled her eyes and stiffened back in her seat, so we know her body language was saying F-you Chris, I'll see you in the alley behind Roscoe's when this is over. Instead, Will decided to expedite the timeframe. According to published reports, these dudes aren't friends anyway, dating back years to a few barbs taken at the Smiths' expense, so unless we get the tea at the next Red Table Talk...

Everything is open to interpretation starting with why the Hollywood Black Avengers (Denzel Washington, Tyler Perry, Sam Jackson, etc.) immediately closed rank around Will as if he needed protection. Chivalry ain't dead, but don't tell me that West Philly Willy, Baltimore Jaida, and Brooklyn-born Chris all suddenly forget this wasn't the alley behind Roscoe's after too much Henny. And color me surprised by some of the other folks who have rallied around Smith in this such as Tiffany Haddish and Iyanla Vanzant. I've noted how many white people have expressed sympathy for Rock, and I know it was Amy Schumer who probably called the cops. He declined to press charges, so all is well in La La Land until somebody suggests they revive the Source Awards...

My good friend Ol' Hobbs has already opined on the incident, but for once, we must disagree on a few points. In recent weeks, there have been several incidents on social media where Black women have been discussing what happens whenever Black men intervene on our behalf. In particular, there was this message posted by a concerned husband and father about a certain IG chef who had tried to doxx the man's wife over some drama on social media. The context of that drama is way too involved to recount here, but part of the side commentary on the matter came from the frustration that the issue only got quashed when the husband stepped in. Part of Hobbs' argument is that a Man sometimes has to shut shit down, and when it comes to standing up for one's wife, Mama, daughters, or other women in his wing-span who are considered vulnerable, a real man will risk it ALL.

I'm not offended by that. But Chris Rock has daughters too, as well as an ex-wife, a Mama, and a few other women he might very well defend under similar circumstances. But he is a comedian, and without knowing that he intended to jab Jada like that, it was a bad joke. As for the jokes from the previous Oscars, I said, Will would never have run up on Jimmy Kimmel that way and I stand by that statement.

Black women do get disrespected, but last night wasn't the right venue to avenge four centuries of slights, not when Ariana DeBose had just claimed her space. It was not the night to lose it when two of the three hosts were Black women who were killing it. The past president of the Academy is a Black woman, as is a past president of the network. So my question is this: where have you been, Fresh Prince? Because we could have used that energy to make change a long time ago!

Follow me here, because Will has been calling the shots in his career since his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days. He has had the power to make moves that many others in Hollywood have not. This is the same dude that has given full-chested Tony Robbinesqe lectures about personal success and drive, but we're supposed to believe that he snapped over a stupid joke? This dude who had a veteran actress, Janet Hubert fired from their show while she was pregnant, a move that kept her ostracized for years in Hollywood (but now she's praising him, so go figure). This dude who has been the subject of speculation for years for a variety of reasons ranging from his sexual orientation to whether he is a Scientologist. 

Willard Carrol Smith II, who had to know that all bets were on him winning that hardware because of the momentum going into this awards season, chose to risk it ALL over Pookie from New Jack City?

Black women have needed this kind of support forever. We've needed brothers to go to the mattresses for us the way we take to the streets when one of our sons gets killed by the police or in a drive by. We've needed Black fathers help in raising their kids. We've needed that Uncle Phil energy to pull a young brother aside for one of those life lectures on personal responsibility and taking care of one's family. We've needed a few good Black men in positions of power in Hollywood, Congress, and the C-Suite to prop the door open so that more of us could enter those corridors without having to fight as hard as they did.

To his credit, Will Smith has been that brother, which is why he felt compelled to tell Richard Williams' story. We poke fun at Smith for his epic failures, but he keeps going. That $20 million per film supports his family, but it also funds various projects such as the 2014 Annie remake and To All The Boys I've Loved Before (2018). What some called nepotism when Will starred alongside his children in various film projects was him providing work and exposure to other young actors of color in a town that only seemed to notice pretty blond ingenues. He saw some young man's vision on YouTube and gave us the sitcom reboot we needed instead of more empty nostalgia. So no, I'm hoping he didn't squander everything by slapping Chris Rock.

The more I think about what happened, I don't think it was Smith that risked it all. It was Christopher Julius Rock.

Black Hollywood ain't that big. At some point, most of these guys have worked together on-screen or behind the scenes, very much like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but probably more like than Three Degrees of Samuel Jackson. If memory serves, Pinkett, Smith, and Rock all arrived in Hollywood about the same time, within a few years of each other. Chris Rock has worked with Jada on the Madagascar movies and his brother Tony worked with Will on All of Us. Both Rock and Smith had a couple of years of overlap on the UPN/CW network before they dumped all of their Black sitcoms. Both Rock and Smith have come a long way from their humble beginnings, each very successful in their own right. However, the Smiths have moved into a position to greenlight projects whereas the Rock brothers are more likely to be in a position to pitch ideas. Whether that is the source of conflict is a wild guess, but we know that some folks are good at smizing with clenched teeth. Haters gonna hate. And as the Rock brothers are also stand-up comedians, the Smiths provide a lot of material.

In other words, methinks the back story to the slap is a lot more complicated than a few bad jokes told at Jada's expense. Methinks Will and Chris have had words in the past, and this was one of those fuck-around-and-find-out moments. Chris must have forgotten or he got froggy, in either case, Will made good on a past promise to slap the taste out of his mouth. And what got me a little twisted is the fact that Tiffany Haddish, a stand-up comedian herself, is #TeamWill while Wanda Sykes, who worked with Rock on Pootie Tang hasn't said anything. This incident has folks taking sides like the 2020 election or going neutral like Sweden.

I don't have answers and I've done exactly what I told myself I would not do--spend all day thinking and opining about this incident. They were both wrong. End of discussion.

However, I still need to know why we aren't talking about Bruno. Seriously, I haven't watched Encanto yet, but the Kid has seen it and of course she loves everything her Tio Lin-Manuel does (yeah, I've decided we're kin now). I have read where some parents were upset about the live performance because of Megan Thee Stallion's appearance and how she added lines that were not in the original song. But I checked my TL to see when I got all exuberant and tweeted about it, and umm, it was almost 10pm. Why were your children still awake and was that before or after the slap? You couldn't just TiVo it for them to watch later? This was the Oscars, not a Disney channel sing-along!

I've taken up enough time already, so let's end with this observation that has nothing to do with the slap. I know that some folks like seeing the technical awards, but most of us don't. I'm just being honest because the show on went for three hours without them and whether you agree or not, the point of a telecast is to entertain. The Oscars ain't for everybody, but last night for a moment in time, they were. They were for the queer Afro-Latinx dancer who started in the chorus; for the deaf actor who wants to teach the President of the United States how to curse in sign language; for the crazy cat-lady makeup artist; for the computer geek who likes to play around with animation; for the weird guy with the giant Afro who plays the drums; and even for Bruno, whom we aren't discussing. The Oscars are for biopics about interesting people who live fascinating lives like Tammy Faye Baker and Richard Williams. The Oscars are for celebrating the arts in all their vibrancy and diversity. So when I say this was Will's night, I mean Will Packer because this was his vision and I wish I had spent more time praising his show than analyzing that 3 minute confrontation.

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