The 94th Academy Awards might have been whole entire days ago, but the particularly contentious ceremony has not yet stopped having earthquake-like ripples. As we all know by now, the essential sequence of events was thus: comedian Chris Rock made a not very good, and definitely very dated joke about actor Jada Pinkett-Smith looking like Demi Moore in the 1997 Ridley Scott film G.I. Jane, her spouse, actor Will Smith got upset, got on stage, slapped Chris Rock, sat back down, yelled at him several times, then Chris Rock got on with the job of presenting. What is being lost in the many, many discussions of the causes and effects of this particular joke and slap is that Chris Rock told another joke, and the butt of that one didn’t like it either. Basically, during the course of announcing that the Best Original Documentary Award had gone to Summer of Soul, Rock said it had been won by “Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson…and four white guys.” Here’s the moment:
Joseph Patel was one of the people included in that statement, as is extremely upset that in a life-changing moment of triumph in winning an Academy Award as a producer of Summer of Soul, had to be racially mischaracterized by Chris Rock. In actual fact, Summer of Soul was made by four people: Questlove, Patel, David Dinerstein, and Robert Fyvolent. Patel himself is of South Asian descent and took objection to Rock referring to him as a white guy. In a series of now-deleted Tweets, Patel said that he was “SO SO VERY ANGRY is because [he] was so proud to be one of a handful of South Asians to have ever won an Oscar in the history of the award.” Earlier that evening, Riz Ahmed and Aneil Karia had won the Academy Award for Best Short Film (Live Action) for The Long Goodbye, making the 94th Academy Awards an unprecedented event in have three South Asian individuals win awards.
Chris Rock could not seem to land a decent joke that particular evening. Joseph Patel went on to state that he understood the nature of jokes, but pointed out the inappropriateness of casually erasing the existence of racial identity other than that of white and black in the moments of presenting an award. For what it is worth, he was also scathing in his rebuke of Will Smith. Patel specifically said:
I think what Will did was selfish…It robbed the category of its moment. It robbed the other excellent and amazing films of their moment to be acknowledged in what was a STRONG year for docs. And it robbed Summer of Soul and our team of our moment.
At the very least, it can be said that the entire sequence of events at the Oscars involving Chris Rock, Will Smith, the telling of jokes, and the presentation of the Award for Best Original Documentary went remarkably poorly. What should have been a joyous and triumphant moment for the winners of the award was undeniably overshadowed and tarnished by two unrelated people. The added factor of casual dismissal of the racial identity of one of the winners, either by ignorance or intention, cannot really be underplayed or excused. It undoubtedly will not be one of the more discussed aspects of the evening, but it still merits being spoken aloud and appreciated for what it was.