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

4 years ago

I love the Oscars. Every year, I sit down happily with wine and treats to watch the movies that I’ve been checking out and loving get nominated and honoured. This year, Les Miserables was my favourite, and I really highly enjoyed the performances by the cast and the speeches being made by everyone involved. Oscar Night didn’t disappoint in its general award-ceremony-ness -- but then it did.

You may have heard of a small film called “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, starring a nine-year-old girl named Quvenzhané Wallis. Wallis gave an incredible performance as Hushpuppy, a six-year-old girl who lives with her sick father on an isolated island in Louisiana. She carried the entire film with her narrative, expressive acting, and wonderful dialogue. She was nominated for Best Actress, and I wholeheartedly feel that she deserved her nomination.

Feb. 24, 2013 - Los Angeles, California, U.S. - QUVENZHANE WALLIS, the youngest person ever nominated for best actress in a leading role, arrives at the 2013 Oscars wearing a midnight blue Giorgio Armani gown and carrying a puppy purse. (Credit Image: © Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News/

Somehow, instead of the world being proud of Wallis, her nomination caused confusion and even skepticism. Some people felt she was too young to be considered a favourite to win and "had time" to be a contender when she was older. One idiotic anonymous Oscar voter decreed he wasn’t going to “vote for someone whose name I can’t pronounce.” When Wallis came to the red carpet tonight, happy and excited to be attending a party where she was being honoured for her work, people mispronounced her name. One reporter went so far as to tell her that she was going to call Wallis “Annie” instead of her name, Quvenzhané. Wallis firmly corrected her –- her name is not Annie, though she is going to play the title role in a remake of the movie.

The jokes went on. Onscreen, Seth MacFarlane decided to make a very distasteful joke about Wallis being “too old for [George] Clooney in another nine years”, which caused uncomfortable laughter and a lot of outrage from feminists, parents, and decent people alike. But the worst of the worst was when The Onion, on its Twitter feed, decided to refer to Wallis as a “c*nt”, trying to crack a joke that fell horribly flat and disgusted people across social media. Since the tweet has since been deleted, here’s a screenshot of the homepage:

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Screenshot taken by @laripley

There are a lot of people who say we live in a post-racial, post-misogynistic society. And I’d like to ask them how they draw that conclusion when a little nine-year-old girl who is also a woman of colour gets sexualized, joked about, and generally put down on what’s supposed to be one of the biggest nights of her life. How a night that’s supposed to honour her turns into this.

I’d also like to ask them how they can say that this is “subversive” humour, or tell everyone that it’s “just The Onion” or “just Seth MacFarlane and his humour”. For one, I’ve never seen a little white girl get treated the way Wallis was treated tonight. Secondly, I find it very odd that a nine-year-old girl getting treated this way is considered normal enough to some people to find it funny. How can you laugh at a child being called a c*nt and sexualized?

I’m not a person of colour (POC). I can’t speak for how Wallis and her family must feel to have heard these insults, and what’s more, to not have them even apologized or atoned for. The Onion deleted its tweet about Wallis and at the time of this writing, has not apologized publicly to her at all. It has not even acknowledged its horrible mistake in publishing that tweet. Seth MacFarlane has not apologized for sexualizing a nine-year-old.

I’m not going to comment on how POC must feel about this, or about how Wallis must feel about it; it’s not my place as a white person to do so. Instead, I’m going to direct you to a woman of colour who can tell you in no uncertain terms exactly what was wrong with tonight and how Wallis was treated. She and a lot of other people on Twitter tonight are saying that this is not just misogynistic behaviour. This is also racist. This is wrong. No one should be standing for this or finding it funny.

If you’d like to tell The Onion how you feel about Quvenzhané Wallis’ treatment tonight, please call or write to them at 212 E Superior St; Chicago, IL 60611, phone number 312-751-0503. This is not okay, nor should it ever be considered okay. Or you can tweet them at @TheOnion, though they don’t appear to be responding to tweets about this. If you want to contact Seth MacFarlane for his jailbait joke, his Twitter handle is @SethMacFarlane. Since the Onion has just taken contact info down from their website at the time of this writing, it’s even more important to tell them how you feel about what just happened to Wallis tonight.

I’m pretty proud of Wallis. She’s an extremely talented actress who deserved to be honoured, not put down and objectified. This is the continuation of racism in our modern culture. It needs to be recognized and stopped before more children are hurt and more women are objectified. What should have happened is that she should have been congratulated and celebrated.

You know, like the other actresses in her category were. As were the other young actresses who shared the experience of being young Oscar nominees along with her.

The only difference is, they’re white, and she’s not.

See the problem here?

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