Black America has a new little sweetheart. Nine-year-old actress Quevanzhané Wallis made history as the youngest person nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild. A movie she shot when she was six years old, she carried the story with more aplomb and natural ability than some adult actresses, and while Jennifer Lawrence’s win for Silver Linings Playbook meant she was unable to unseat Anna Paquin as the youngest Oscar winner, Quevanzhané’s poise captured America’s hearts.
Everyone except, apparently, some intern at the offices of The Onion. Known for their snarky, sarcastic humor someone took it upon themselves to live-tweet the following during the Oscar broadcast:
Now being a snarky, sarcastic smartass myself, I got the joke—that is to say, I saw what direction they were trying to go with it. The problem is, it wasn’t funny. At all. Their attempts to intimate, however tongue-in-cheek, that this very polite, well-mannered little girl who is obviously at ease acting her own age in real life was the polar opposite of all of that which is universally assumed to be the true demeanor of the child actor. The Onion’s CEO issued an apology, but those offended by the comment AND those offended by the infringement on free speech were not swayed—and there are many who cannot seems to grasp why there is such an uproar. Perhaps I can better explain it to them so they can grasp the impact of their words….
Projecting the typical spoiled, bratty attitude associated with many actresses was a clever joke—really it was. And you might have pulled it off…with a different word. All of the possible choices in the English language—brat, diva, terror, prima donna, monster, demon child—you settled on calling a 9-year-old an ugly epithet usually equated with the female genitalia? Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an ugly word to lob at ANY woman, but you chose to toss that pitch at a child…particularly a child dressed in formal wear from the little girls’ department and a doggie purse on her shoulder. Not only was that wrong, but the comparison was ridiculous. Wasn’t there quite enough female objectifying in the Oscar jokes? Hell, in the Oscar PICTURES? You could have used that word on Brooke Shields from her Pretty Baby days, Jenna Jamison or even Sarah Silverman and it STILL would have been wrong. And considering I’m no Sarah Silverman fan and I’ve seen her act in doucheworthy fashion, that’s a big thing for me to say. The backlash you’re getting over this Tweet is not about curbing your free speech; it’s about your lack of imagination, creativity and basic human decency.
If that discussion weren’t ridiculous enough, I’ve also seen comments pop up on blogs and message boards about Lil Q’s “ghettofabulous” name being plausible tinder for this firestorm, as if to say her unusual name is an “attack magnet.” I think this offended me more than the Onion debacle. I have talked about a lot of the unusual names I’ve seen and heard, and there’s enough jokes out to cover the subject (tell me if you haven’t heard the Le-a/”Ledasha” one….), but a person’s name shouldn’t be seen as a trigger to be insulting. Yes, I suppose you could make a case for all of the schoolyard teasing that has gone on for ages…but when someone suggests that her “made-up” name unequivocally gives license to stereotype and insult her—I’m sorry, that’s BS to the highest level. I don’t care if her parents named her Clitoris Vagina (ask me about THAT joke too); that is not a free pass to call her that C-word, or anything else vile, insulting and most importantly, CLEARLY untrue. Yes, her name is unique and probably not something I would personally have come up with for my child. But let’s look at this logically: a) she’s NOT my child (not that I wouldn’t have her) and therefore her name is not my choice and has nothing to do with me; b) it’s a beautiful and unique name which, considering she’s plying her trade on the big screen, is a Hollywood asset, and c) regardless of whether or not her name is “jacked up,” that has little to do with her lovely personality, her talent, or her right to be respected. It’s refreshing to see a little girl in Hollywood actually BEING a little girl in Hollywood, so let’s support and celebrate that.
That said, I am putting the world on notice that, like Willow Smith, I am claiming this baby under the niece umbrella. She’s already got a head start stepping in to the Annie project her “cousin” vacated…. 😉 Hopefully, she’s been able to remain untouched by all this unnecessary controversy and is being allowed to be a child. The ONLY C-word that applies here.
A Love Letter to Quevanzhané Wallis, The Crunk Feminist Collective
Why the Onion’s Crappy Apology Is Worthless, The Root
Op-Ed: A Feminist’s Defense of Seth MacFarlane, SheWired
Terms of Engagement, in media res