Nigerian-British actor David Oyelowo, like many others who were there at the infamous tense confrontation between Will Smith and Chris Rock at the 94th Annual Academy Awards, has expressed his emotions.
He wrote an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter on the likely consequences of the incident.
Some of his fellow actors and comedians have been using words like “traumatized,” “sickened,” and “outraged” to describe how they feel about the incident. They have also called for Smith to be sued and disciplined. The actor says he’s worried that this will affect how the Academy and Hollywood as a whole deal with diversity and inclusion efforts in the future.
From “Selma” being snubbed for Best Actor and Best Director in 2015 to his viral response to “La La Land” being wrongly awarded Best Picture in 2017, the actor has been a witness to many dramatic Oscar moments.
“But like most of us, nothing could have prepared me for what was to come,” Oyelowo wrote of the 94th annual Oscars. “As a Black man in the public eye, you are constantly aware of the fact that your very existence is political. You are consistently in a state of either being used as an example to perpetuate or debunk a stereotype. Those stereotypes are tied to criminality, civility, education, sexual prowess, poverty, social responsibility, and so much more. It’s a burden I have to accept despite it being exhausting.”
He added, “The moment I slowly realized the nature of what had just occurred on the stage at the Dolby Theater, I was confronted by the same rising anxiety all Black people feel when the face that flashes up on the news after a crime is reported, is a Black one. You find yourself thinking, ‘What does this mean for us?’ ‘What does that mean for me?’”
Following the Oscars, the “Midnight Sky” star claims an older white man approached him at an after-party, stating Smith “should have been dragged right out of there.”
David Oyelowo remarked, “You may well agree with that sentiment, but it’s not what he said, it’s the way he said it. I know that relish. I know that demeanor, and it is ugly to its core in all of its coded messaging.”
“It would be naive to assume that the incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock will not be pushed, by some industry professionals, through the lens of race.”
He went on to say that the Academy had made significant progress since #OscarsSoWhite, particularly in improving its disgracefully unequal racial and gender demographics. He, on the other hand, expressed concern about how Smith’s confrontation would jeopardize that progress.
“My fear is that this unfortunate incident, which has us all processing, will have a negative effect on the ongoing push for inclusion. There are those who, in a bid to make sure something of this nature never happens again, will operate through an unconscious — or conscious — bias,” Oyelowo wrote. “A bias that still governs so much of the decision-making in Hollywood. It would be tragic if a bid to prevent such an incident from happening again becomes an excuse for ideas about inclusion and diversity to backslide. That would only confirm the disingenuous nature of some of these pledges in the first place. This incident should not be a springboard for proxy arguments in Hollywood circles about race, respectability and belonging.”
The actor closed his post by urging Hollywood powers-that-be to stay focused on progress in diversity and inclusion despite those who may want to undo the progress.
“I’m calling on the good people with good intentions to stay focused on building on the great gains we’ve recently made. They mustn’t be eroded by those with bad intentions who would seek with relish to weaponize this incident to derail those gains and divide us.”
Read the full op-ed here.