Quvenzhané Wallis Deserves Better

 

Last night’s Oscar broadcast was more or less what I expected. Standard issue sophomoric humor and frat boy irreverence set to music and soft shoe dance routines by Seth McFarlane, check. An excessively long broadcast that felt every second of three hours long, check. Glorious gowns and fantastic performances by a few of my favorite musical artists, CHECK. Look out for a positive review of the enjoyable, glamorous aspects of the Oscars later. Right now I need to address the undeserved issues surrounding one special person in attendance last night.

 

Quvenzhane Wallis Oscars puppy purse red carpet

When Quvenzhané Wallis looks back on her first Oscar experience, what will she remember?

Will she remember all the famous people who were super nice to her? Will she remember staying up way past her bedtime? Will she remember the awesome gift bags she and her relatives received?

Or will she remember how everyone butchered her name? Will she remember the jokes that included her name that may have been too grown up for her to understand last night? Will she remember how that silly AP reporter tried to call her Annie, instead of Quvenzhané?

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Gif via SheReader.

Will she remember the controversy that happened on Twitter right after the Oscars, the one that undoubtedly will come up when she searches for her own name on the internet?

I hope not.

In case you missed @TheOnion’s offensive tweet, you can click here to read about it. I’m not retweeting that or posting it on my blog. It’s easy enough to find elsewhere. And now they’ve issued an apology.

I come from a place where that word is uttered casually and often, as it is throughout many British commonwealth countries. But the c-word is unique amongst curse words. This word is meant to simultaneously demean and sexualize. It is a derogatory, gendered obscenity and it was used in a throwaway joke about a nine year old girl. A little girl, whose favorite fashion statements are puppy purses, whose talent shone so brightly in her first ever film, that she found herself nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. A child who deserves to cherish her innocence, and to look back on this experience as one of the most magical and transformative of her life.

I’ve been a fan of The Onion for years. I own their books. I’m a frequent visitor to their website. And I am so disappointed in their new direction of shock humor, akin to the kind of jokes that a Jim Norton or Anthony Jeselnik would tell. The Onion used to be about clever, funny satire. Even though I get that the tweet was meant to be a statement on today’s view of celebrities where we feel free to tweet them cavalier insults or write articles about why they hate a certain celebrity (case in point Anne Hathaway). The same joke about Quvenzhané could have been achieved by using a more benign word. If they’d used “jerk” instead of the c-word, we wouldn’t be talking about this today.

This isn’t about politics, even though commenters on certain websites will make any and everything political. Trudging through the comments on the Hollywood Reporter article about this incident today was an exercise in depression. This has nothing to do with who’s in the White House or what’s been said about political figures by comedians in the past. This is about a child, not an adult who is more than capable of defending themselves.

Quite simply, to me it’s about right and wrong, and this need to get attention by any means necessary. It’s about this linkbait, click here now, damn the consequences and forget your feelings mentality that’s ruling the internet. It’s about the way that women of color are treated in the media as a whole and about how women in general are used in humor as sexual objects for crude punchlines. Apparently it doesn’t matter how old you are. Apparently anyone is fair game.

I hate that she will inevitably learn this word, and that this might be how that happens.

I hate that what should be a magical memory has become embroiled in media outrage.

I hate that what was once one of my favorite websites for nuanced, intelligent satire and laugh out loud jokes, has sunk so low in my estimation that I felt compelled to unfollow them on Twitter.

I hate what the comments on posts about Quvenzhané have revealed – a gaping chasm between genders and ethnicities, on how jokes should or should not be interpreted, all dictated by people coming from a place of ignorance and privilege. There are folks out there, mad at The Onion for apologizing for something that warranted an apology, something that should never have been said in the first place. Instead of recognizing that hey, this joke isn’t funny and it went too far and look at how many people are offended maybe we should think about why or at least respect where they might be coming from, the defense becomes about racism and dismissing righteous vitriol. It’s like it’s cool to be blasé and willfully wrongheaded about EVERYTHING. If you speak up and say you’re offended, then your sense of humor comes into question.

I’m over it. It should be obvious. There is right and there is wrong and this was WRONG. Point blank.

The next time Quvenzhané Wallis graces a Hollywood event, do us all a favor.

#1 – learn how to say her name right. She has addressed this many times. It is not THAT hard. And even if it was – she deserves that respect. If you can learn how to pronounce the names of fancy designers, then you can master Quvenzhané. Practice beforehand, if you need to.

#2 – learn how to speak about her in a way that won’t be offensive.

#3 – show her the same level of respect that you’d want someone to show your own daughters.

I’m sorry, Quvenzhané. I hope your next Hollywood experience isn’t marred by ignorance and misogyny. You deserved so much better than you got last night. But your fans love you and we know you’re strong enough to handle anything that comes your way.

 

QuvenzhaneOscarGif

 

Love and light.

For more on this, read the following amazing articles:

xoJane – An Open Letter to The Onion.

Clutch Magazine on The Onion’s attack on Quvenzhane

Eve Vawter on Mommyish

BlogHer on The Onion’s Racist Treatment of Quvenzhané Wallis at the 2013 Oscars

Karen Waldron on the academy awards, and why i don’t think bullying is going anywhere anytime soon

EdRants on Why The Onion Must Be Held Accountable For Its Vile Tweet.

DebRox on Seth MacFarlane and The Onion Prove that Misogyny and Racism Still Rule

Claire Zulkey’s Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

Crunk Feminist Collective’s Love Letter to Quvenzhane Wallis.

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Comments

  1. As a man, I can say these Oscars were disrespectful to women in general. “We Saw Your Boobs”? Really? But you took the words right out of my mouth, Patrice. The Onion could have use ANY other word and the satire would have remained. Because, yes, women in the public eye tend to be scrutinized more so than their male counterparts, so I get what the Onion was trying to say. But using that word to describe a 9-year-old, even if it was a joke… that’s not even a line I would cross.

  2. Hi Patrice! Thanks for writing this. I don’t quite follow the Movie/Music or TV crowds, but I caught wind of the uproar via social media over this beautiful little girl and her name. I myself know this plight and I couldn’t help but be upset that people can’t for the life of them find the decency to just learn her name.

    Now as for that Onion tweet. Wow! Such a low disgusting blow!! The Onion was never funny to begin with, just dry rude humor poking fun at people, but everyone’s into something right? To think they would remove that horrible tweet sooner, and atleast apologize sooner, but no. It’s not one of their own, so why haste? The apology on it’s own beg so much other questions, that we as a people don’t have time to sit down and get into, but I suppose for them it is a start. It is NEVER acceptable to call anyone let alone a child that word, or any other derogatory words for that matter. When people will grasp this concept then maybe we will be just a little better off.

    I hope little Ms. Quvenzhané Wallis hold’s her up high and know she is beautiful, she is unique and her name is awesome and one of a kind!!

    From someone with just as tongue twisty a name!

  3. The Onion took it too far.

  4. Great piece! That The Onion crossed the line should be an obvious no brainer. It’s also obvious why all the people who say that it was “just a joke” or “satire” don’t get it: They have no brain (or heart, for that matter).

  5. Benjamin Glaze says:

    I definitely agree that her name should be pronounced properly, or at least people should ATTEMPT to pronounce it properly. However, on the point regarding the AP reporter, I believe you misunderstood her reasoning behind making a joke of calling her Annie. She was recently confirmed as the person who would perform the part of Annie in the Broadway revival of that play. So I don’t think calling her “Annie” was a lazy slight about not wanting to attempt pronouncing her name right, but rather just a reference to the fact that she will be playing Annie on Broadway soon.

    • naw she was being lazy…

    • I think it was a reference but she did it so ham-fistedly that it confused everyone. She should have said hey Quvenzhane, congrats on Annie!! Can your fans look forward to seeing you as Annie?

      If she’d just said her name once, then none of this would be up for debate.

    • Sorry, have to disagree with you here, despite the explanation. Even if she was trying to avoid pronouncing the name, she could have addressed her as “Broadway’s newest star of the musical Annie” or some other moniker that congratulated her or something. I don’t think it was an intentional slight, but it was sloppy–particularly for a reporter. If she has a mike in her hand, I’m assuming she’s preparing for something like this. I could be wrong.

  6. Maybe now with the Quvenzhane brouhaha, blacks will understand how Africans feel when they turn a simple 2 SYLLABLE name like DIALLO into 3. My cousins have now adopted the mispronunciation themselves because they want to make it easier [and not be seen as antagonistic] on people they interact with in US society. SMH!

    • Blacks? When the Amadou Diallo case came out all of the White media was pronouncing it with 3 syllables. They also butchered Ki Suk Han’s name and spelled it Ki Suck Han. I’m not sure why you’ve singled out Blacks for this. Blame it on general American ignorance. BTW I know how to pronounce DIALLO!

    • it happens with African names, Asian names, Spanish names, Middle Eastern names…anything perceived as “different.” SMH indeed

    • Mr. Blackman says:

      Dude, since when are Africans NOT BLACK PEOPLE! You idiots kill me allowing people to instill so much hate for yourselves that you mentally segregate yourselves from your OWN people based upon the continent you’re born on.

  7. I agree her name is beautiful/unique, however, the claim about the “Zhane” part of name meaning fairy in Swahili…? Must admit, I had a ‘WTF’ moment with that. As a native Swahili speaker I can tell you that “Zhane” doesn’t exist in any form in the Swahili language. Living in the US, I’ve heard all types of made up names being attributed to Swahili and it is sometimes insulting. I guess in America, it can fly since few are familiar with the language. Other than that, she is a cute girl, and wish her the best.

    • I had to make sure I said her MOM said that…because when I googled, I couldn’t find that translation anywhere! What is Fairy in Swahili?

      • guest star says:

        First, the concept of a fairy as it exists in American culture doesn’t really exist in Swahili culture. So there is no real direct word/translation for fairy in Swahili. The closest thing is “Jini” or “pepo” or ” kizimwi” which could mean fairy, but can also mean a spirit, or genie, or even a demon.

  8. Well said!

  9. One of the best reactions to this that I’ve read, but you really think the Onion’s fallen off that much lately? I think a lot of their gun violence/gun control stuff has been excellent.

    • They’ve been so hit or miss lately. You can tell there are so many different writers/perspectives there. The gun control stuff has been great but some of their pop culture stuff has been tone deaf and insensitive.

  10. Totally feeling you on all points. Love your writing.

  11. Thank you for writing this. I did not watch the Oscars but I am saddened by this news. Quvenzhané is a beautiful and talented girl who certainly deserves so much better than this. But as awful as the situation is, my greatest hope is that she will do what countless others of her ancestry have done who came before her. Those who have had to deal with events they never should have experienced in the first place. Continue to BE, continue to SHINE and continue to RISE!

    Quvenzhané you are a star!

  12. Just amother day in America……this is one reason why I don’t follow celebrities or engage in all this ridiculous fan worship that the Western world gets caught up in. As this is a taste of the reality of the business perhaps Quvenshane and her parents should focus her talents toward something worthwhile like Academia, Technology or Medicine, instead of entertainment where Hollywood chews people up, spits them out, degrades them, has a very short attention span, and is still racist and exclusionary. She’s in the limelight now, but how long is that going to last, and how hard is she going to have to fight to stay there? Who know what the future holds? Will she be another Anna Paquin, another child Oscar nominee who won actually, slogged through some forgetable films as a teen before finally landing some hits as an adult later or will she languish as she gets older, like the infamous Tatum O’Neal?

    Though she is a talented little girl, and is an inspiration for other kids, our children need to understand that there are other avenues to success in life besides singing, dancing, acting and playing ball, and it starts with education, exposure beyond the televison and your own neighborhood. There are other role models for Black children besides entertainers. It would help if adults would recognize this as well.

    • If she wants to be an actress, she should be an actress. Clearly she has an abundance of talent. As an artist myself, I am so sick of hearing Black folks complaining about the lack of Black creative professionals (actors, directors, writers, artists) while simultaneously shaming creative Black kids into pursuing lines of “practical” work. Yes, it is difficult, yes Hollywood is fickle, but if you have a God-given talent your gifts will make room for you. She just has to fight a lot harder to stay in her rightful place. And since she’s young she has the time to really hone her craft and enhance her skills by learning about filmmaking, writing, directing, or producing if she wants to.

  13. Patrice, I read many pieces on this and yours is by far the most illuminating and well-written! You continue to make us all proud. Thank you.

  14. Patrice – well written as usual and I hope that indeed this offensive tweet and all the connected comments do not turn her away from her dreams to be in Hollywood.

    Thanks again for this.

  15. I had no idea all of this went down, I don’t cable and regular Brit tele only shows the red carpet bit. Thanks for bringing this out. How sad and small minded people can be. I hope as the years go by her family teaches her how to handle such situations in the mean time I reckon we all have our part to play to ensure that no little girl or boy should have to experience that kind of behaviour for ‘adults’.

  16. Excellent post! Thank you.

  17. It is not imagination. Young Black Girls in North America are media targets because mainstream society are desperate for Young Black Girls to “learn their place” at an early age lest more of them become Quvenzhane Wallis, Sasha Obama, Malia Obama, Willow Smith, Gabrielle Douglas, Venus Williams, Serena Williams–or heaven forbid–First Lady Michelle Obama.

    Sasha and Malia Obama USED to be criticized like grown women until the President stepped to the media and said, “Not MY children, you don’t.” You don’t hear much sniping and complaining about those two very well-behaved girls any more.

    Venus and Serena Williams, if not for their father (who the media HATED for not letting them “get at” his girls), would have been chewed up in the sports media meat grinder. Some of us recall when the girls got booed and called racist names by North Americans when they played doubles or singles overseas.

    Amanda Steinberg became the target of her own Twitter attack by ignorant, illiterates and racists who expressed repulsion at the thought of a Black female scifi hero.

    Gabrielle Douglas heard side commentary from her own teammates about the width of her nose and got called a “flying squirrel.”

    I’ve also seen nasty commentary against Willow Smith for being the privileged child of wealthy, powerful actors in Hollywood.

    Little Black Girls are TARGETED. It is not your/our imagination. Mainstream society wants Little Black Girls to know their place is not first, second, third, or even fourth. They want to do enough psychological damage to convince Little Black Girls that their place is last, that they mean less, that they are worth less. That no one will defend them when White males and/or females of privilege attack.

    Thank God Quvenzhane Wallis has the self-confidence, self-worth, and self-knowledge, the bravery and the class to look grown rich White male idiots of privilege with media power and dominance straight in the face and let them know that SHE KNOWS WHO SHE IS and who she is not. These patriarchal racists–writers at The Onion, writers at SNL, writers at The Academy Awards–attempted their very best to marginalize Wallis with C-Bomb, Little Q, Miss Q, “Annie” and she did not allow them to call her out of her name or maintain any social or cultural power over her. Now that’s a child well-raised.

    By the way, if Hollywood can say Schwartzenegger, then they can say Quvenzhane or continue to reveal themselves as the racist illiterates and social misfits they likely are anyway.

    And I did notice that none of the blue-eyed blonde female child actors–Ashely and Elizabeth Olson, Abigail Breslin, Dakota Fanning–received the level of contempt, loathing, disrespect, and “satire” thrown Quvenzhane’s way. Certainly, Jennifer Lawrence did not. Harvey Weinstein would have fallen upon The Onion like a ton of bricks if she’d been C-Bombed either before or after receiving her Oscar. Lawrence’s magic night and Lawrence herself remained apparently undisturbed by the disrespect shown her fellow nominee.

    I truly wonder whether any of these women recognize their White privilege granted by their White male protectors, but I doubt it. Everyone seems color-blinded by all the “satire.”

    The only two Black females at the Academy Awards with any camera time–First Lady Michelle Obama and Quvenzhane Wallis–received vituperative commentary for daring to show their brown faces and daring to breathe the rare air of that White-dominated world.

    Hollywood and mainstream media have revealed themselves time and again as purveyors of racial hatred and misogyny.

    I love the way not only First Lady Michelle Obama, but also Quvenzhane Wallis refuse to bow down. These two wonderful role models know and understand that their place is wherever they want it to be and the White patriarchy in North America need to get with that program.

  18. Donella says:

    I’ve been a regular reader of The Onion, and so I decided to take my own advice in paying attention to patterns of media attitudes towards Black women and girls. What I’ve noticed over the years and decided to keep an eye on, is that The Onion also seems strangely preoccupied with Sasha Obama, using her as a proxy to criticize the President. I don’t think I’d be concerned if they focused on Michelle, because she is an adult, but I do not support the use of children in adult power games:

    Feb 23, 2009 “Sasha Obama Keeps Seeing Creepy Twins While Riding Tricycle Through White House”

    April 7, 2009 “2008 Tax Records Reveal Sasha Obama Made $136 in Allowance Money”

    Oct 29, 2009 “Sasha Obama Orders Secret Service Agent to Stop Squirming During Makeover”

    Oct 4, 2012 “Sasha Obama Asks Father Why He Was Acting Like Such a Pussy During Debate”

    Jul 24, 2012 “Holy Shit, I Just Realized People Want to Kill My Dad” [fake Sasha Obama byline]

    May 14, 2013 “Sasha Obama Suspicious After Doing a Little Digging Around on Benghazi”

    It wasn’t until after the overt move on Quvenzhane Wallis that I had confirmation for my growing unease. The predominantly White male writers for The Onion are bad players, bullies, and somewhat underhanded in their attitudes to young Black women since they hide those negative attitudes behind the shield of satire.

    • Nov 20, 2013 “White House Announces Sasha Obama To Now Be Played By Britney Watkins”

      More under-handed micro-aggressions on Sasha Obama by The Onion who is barely a preteen. Apparently, they’re too scared to take on Michelle Obama, a grown woman. PUNKS.

      One day, the president and CEO of The Onion will understand the correlation between these subtle editorial attacks on Black female children and the loss of advertising dollars that have forced The Onion to cease its print edition this December 2013.

      Nice work, everyone! And good riddance to bad rubbish! But even while The Onion continues its wretched, crooked, bend ways online, we have our eyes on your ugly attitudes and ugly ways towards Black female children. SNL too.

      Call it just jokes if you want to feel better about bullying Black children. Who will be the ones laughing if the online edition also ceases publication?

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  20. Quvenzhané is still a crap invented name that doesn’t mean sh.t in any known language. Don’t pull that Swahili BS because it’s not. Dumb Wallis parents.

    Zhané would’ve been a nice beautiful name for her. Why make it ugly with Quven (her parents’ supposedly first syllable in their first names).

    Idiots.

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