Fantasy Fans: Where’s Your Outrage?

This is hurriedly written and unedited; gotta take Besame Mucho to the vet in a few. Apologies for typos/inclarities in advance.

If you didn’t know, something relevant to your genre happened last night. Beasts of the Southern Wild, a fantasy film I’ve been raving about, got nominated for four different Oscars — yeah, they didn’t win any last night, but getting nominated is still awesome. One of those nominations was for the film’s star, Quvenzhané Wallis, who also made history for being the youngest-ever Oscar nominee. She’s 9 years old.

Here’s the part that happened last night: half of Hollywood decided that it hated her.

The reasons for that hate vary. Some of it’s just… Hollywood, land of the unbelievably hateful people who tear each other down to build themselves up. (Where I come from that’s called bullying, and it happens most often in a schoolyard.) There’s a billion snickering comments and articles online right now about the fact that one of the Oscar winners tripped. This is a professional culture of 12-year-olds.

Well. Except. Most of the ones with power are old white guys. They just have the sense of humor of 12-year-olds.

Here’s some things they did:

Oh, and it wasn’t just Hollywood misbehaving. The better-known chunks of the feminist community got in on the act, calling her “disgusting” and “insufferable” in the comments. Those people are getting told by quite a few people, but just goes to show you that even (sometimes especially) feminists can be racist fucks.

And what terrible things did Ms. Wallis do to invite this kind of vitriol? Oh, just stuff like this:

Quvenzhané Wallis doing a little fist-pump in celebration.

Just be herself: talented, happy, pretty, and proud of her achievement. She didn’t misbehave, she didn’t snark at anyone the way winner Jennifer Lawrence did (and Lawrence was awesome for doing so, but it’s interesting how white girls can get away with being confident more easily than black girls. Isn’t it?). Ms. Wallis committed the crime of being confident while black and female. Hey, it happens to all of us, often starting around puberty; I guess Hollywood just decided to start the shaming and systematic tearing-down early.


So here’s the thing: I’ve seen a lot of outrage over this from folks on my Twitter feed, which includes a lot of people in the genre community. It’s heartening to see that. But I can’t help thinking that there should be a lot more outrage than I’m seeing. After all, a fantasy film just came very close to winning an Oscar for Best Picture — yet I don’t see the community even embracing this as a fantasy film, let alone leaping to the defense of one of our biggest stars. I wonder about that. Really, I do.

Here’s what I’d like to see: more people talking about this, in social media and other places. I’d like those people to unfollow The Onion, if they’re following it, and un”like” it on Facebook — because social media capital is valuable these days, and doing these small things is the equivalent of a boycott. You can also write the Onion and tell them what you think of this. I know people are looking up lists of their advertisers even as we speak, so when there’s a list of Onion advertisers to write to, I’ll add that to this post.

But aside from that, what I’d like to see is some good old-fashioned geek rage. I mean, seriously, ya’ll. Geek rage is an awesome and beautiful thing when it gets behind a cause of worth. This one’s worthy.

And I’d like to see it because I was this girl, once. Oh, not famous, but just that cheerfully focused on a goal — in my case, becoming a published novelist. And I’ve had my share of people trying to tear me apart for daring to want such a thing. Like I said, it happens to a lot of us. But a little support goes a long way.

ETA: Closed some open tags, linked to the article about the anon Oscar voter who said he wasn’t voting for her b/c of her name.

Daughter of ETA: The Onion has apologized.

Spoiled Niece of ETA: Apparently people are playing silly buggers, reporting me for spamming my own website. Apologies for the brief downtime, and hopefully it won’t happen again. Note: I hotlinked the “fistpump” gif because I can’t seem to get it to upload on my site. I got it from here, tho’.

75 Responses »

  1. Note to all: I’m going to reply only sparingly to the comments here. I’m busy. But feel free to comment amongst yourselves, so long as you keep it civil.

    Also note: I’ve been letting the dissenters through on this if they’ve been civil, even if the mansplaining/whitesplaining and/or derailment is strong with those ones. But I’m eyeballing them, and if I see signs of derailment occurring, I’ll cut them.

    Out of the conversation.

    That’s all I meant. I swear.

    ETA: For those wondering who called Ms. Wallis a brat, and whatever else got said, Racialicious has a good summary.

  2. Angela Beegle,

    Please note that link in the OP to a conservative site on which the President’s daughters got called everything but their names. Social conservatives are in no way immune to bigotry.

    That said, bigotry isn’t partisan, and I’ve seen some heinouse shit coming out of the mouths of noted liberal or non-partisan pundits and sites (like the Onion) to prove it.

  3. Los,

    Thanks so much! That’s exactly what I needed, a total stranger “correcting” me on how to express my identity. What ever would I do without people like you?

  4. Monday: “So, nkjemison, let me see if I have this straight… someone is an “asshole” and “malicious” for reporting this site because they want it stopped (I assume, I don’t know, admittedly) but… isn’t that somewhat of what you’re trying to do to The Onion?”

    Right, because fraudulently reporting someone for something they didn’t do with the intent of shutting them down entirely is EXACTLY the same as honestly calling someone out for something they actually did do with the intent of getting them to apologize and hopefully change their ways.

  5. “The Hobbit” not winning is worth more outrage than racism and sexism from grown@$$ people toward a 9-year-old.

    I have now heard everything.

    I am stunned and just… going to go lie down.

  6. Hmm, I think I’ll object to all the infantile behavior by paying to go see that movie! We almost did once when it first came out, but ran out of time. I hope we’ll see more of that actress and a future Oscar will motivate them to learn her name properly.

  7. Quvenzhané Wallis just got cast in the title role of a high profile remake of Annie directed by Will Gluck (Easy A). Sometimes success is the best revenge.

  8. All the online news about this year’s Oscars makes me want to buy fewer movie tickets.

    This, the plagiarizing host, the silenced VFX winners, the misogyny: more money for books and podcasts instead.

  9. Regarding Nico’s comment (copied at the very end of this message) – you hit the nail on the head. If the general public truly understood satire (and many, unfortunately, do not), then this tweet wouldn’t have become nearly as scandalous as it unfortunately has.

    That said, I don’t condone The Onion’s tweet, but mostly because it was poorly conceived satire; too easy to be misconstrued by the public at large precisely because such an emotionally charged word (for a mostly American audience) was used in tandem with a 9 year old child. I think the writer of the tweet should have been more mindful of the general public’s extreme dislike of the word in conjunction with its all-too-common inability to identify and understand irony and satire.

    To quote another comment that I think succinctly explains the tweet’s intent, “The girl wasn’t the target for satire, the joke was the absurdity of being mean to the cutest, sweetest little girl to ever be nominated for the Oscar. The target was our celeb-bashing culture.”

    Frankly, I think The Onion is being slammed far too harshly.

    Nico posted on February 25, 2013 • 10:08 am
    “Makes sense except the Onion thing. The Onion’s on your side. They do satire, in this case, satirizing idiots who think that they need to call a 9-year-old girl “insufferable.” They satirized that by calling her a cunt, which is obviously absurd and offensive, and calls attention to the absurdity and offensiveness of her treatment at the hands of everybody else.

    It might have been too offensive to get its point across, but there’s also no need to take it at face value and try to boycott the Onion.”

  10. For Chris, Nico, and everyone else who’s like “but it’s satire! you just didn’t get it!”… no. “It’s satire” is not a get-out-of-fuckup-free card.

    A lot of people have been commenting on this (including Baratunde Thurston, a trained comedian and former Director of Digital at the Onion). And what they’re all saying is that the tweet was bad satire.

    Most people get that it was meant as satire. I also get that the Onion has, historically, been good at satire — I’ve been a fan of theirs for years because of that. Thing is, good satire aims upward. It works best when it skewers people with power, and balances the scales a little between the powerful and the less-so. When satire comes from powerful people making fun of the people who get shat on all the time, it just looks mean-spirited and — if there’s a history of discrimination against that group — bigoted. This is why so many of Seth MacFarlane’s jokes went over like lead balloons. Top-down satire just reinforces the same old ugliness that’s not funny in everyday life… at least not to those of us who are on the receiving end of that shit on the regular.

    So yeah, I know it was intended to be funny. I disagree with Mr. Thurston on the idea that intention matters, though; as with any incidence of bigotry, ultimately what we have to look at is the result. The result is that one of the most powerful media organizations in the country decided to call a little brown girl, who can’t even make people learn to pronounce her damn name right — hell, who can’t even dictate what time she goes to bed — a cunt. And this is in the context of a whole week of powerful people stereotyping her, maligning her confidence, and sexualizing her — just as has been done to millions of little girls like her, for literally centuries.

    So, yeah, it’s satire. It failed.

  11. ^^ Agreed. Satire or not, it wasn’t funny. It was hurtful and utterly distasteful. That said, I’m not going to boycott the Onion for the actions of one individual who, the apology has made abundantly clear, does not speak for the entire organization. Honestly, given the usual nature of the Onion, I think the fact that they apologized at all speaks volumes. (If they habitually pulled stuff like this, though, it’d be very different.)

    McFarlane, on the other hand, is someone I’ve never had any respect for, and my only question there is why on EARTH the Academy thought it would be a good idea for him to host the Oscars. Sigh.

  12. Grace,

    Timing matters; at the time I wrote this post, the Onion had not yet apologized or distanced itself from the tweet. There’s no need to boycott now that a desirable outcome has been achieved.

    I assume the Academy got what it wanted from having MacFarlane host. You don’t hire a crass bigot to represent your organization unless you’re OK with crass bigotry, after all. I’d like to see an apology from the Academy too, but to be honest I expected nothing better from them in the first place.

  13. @Chris: What nkjemisin, with this added observation from Comedy/Satire 101 (and applicable to all writing, BTW): If you haven’t clearly communicated your “intent” to your audience, you’ve failed.

    A really good way to prevent people thinking you’re racist, misogynistic and generally assholy is… well, don’t be racist, misogynistic and generally assholy.

  14. Another one in the category wherein the only reason I wasn’t outraged was that, until reading through various posts TODAY (yes, Tuesday), I hadn’t a clue it had happened. I’m rather glad the Onion apologized, and to all appearances without the “Sorry you think you’re hurt” fauxpology vibe, but it does mean I will be watching their writing more closely, with a bit less trust.

    And it has sounded like a good movie to me for a long while, but we don’t watch a lot first run. I’ll have to hunt it up, though.

    I have a pretty good guess just from reading it how one pronounces Quvenzhané — the biggest question is probably where the stress is. (My instinct says first strongly and third weak). It requires, however, actually reading what’s there. I remember a coworker complaining that she had no idea how to pronounce Srivastava, too (the visiting printer technician’s surname), and I had to break it down syllable by syllable for her. (And she still complained).

    Sigh – McFarlane should have been a mistake, but like you, I think it was too aware a choice. (Thing is, I can see a way to make the George Clooney joke, and make it pointedly about him, and without sexualizing a nine-year-old. It just takes a half a minute of thought. Too much for McFarlane to spare, clearly.)

  15. I’m always a little torn about how to respond to organizations that do something terrible and then issue a sincere apology for it, like the Onion has done. On the one hand, even the best apology can’t take words back or fully reverse the damage, so it seems unfair to just go back to reading them as if nothing happened. On the other, continuing to boycott an organization that apologizes gives organizations that make mistakes in the future zero incentive to apologize and every incentive to double-down. Maybe they deserve a temporary boycott, like a two-week time out for bad behaviour or something. I don’t know.

    As an aside, Andy, your post made my day. It takes a lot of chutzpah to go on a noted fantasy author’s site and correct her identification of a fantasy work. Don’t stop there, though! The SFWA is under a similar misapprehension; they nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild for a Nebula Award. You should contact them, as they clearly lack anyone with your expertise in categorizing fiction.

  16. “(Thing is, I can see a way to make the George Clooney joke, and make it pointedly about him, and without sexualizing a nine-year-old. It just takes a half a minute of thought. Too much for McFarlane to spare, clearly.)”

    Up to a point. I’m twenty-seven years younger than my partner (and there was a similar age-gap between my parents) so I don’t find it intrinsically laughable – or somehow ‘creepy’ – that George Clooney is a consenting adult who has sex/relationships/is seen in public with other consenting adults who happen to be significantly younger than him. To me, that alleged joke would have been just as foul on that level if the butt had been 22 year-old Jennifer Lawrence.

  17. *argh*

    I missed any information about the film (odds that it played near to where we live in rural Texas VERY low), or anything beyond the general commentary on MacFarland’s dipshittery–I never watch award shows, they make me all twitchy and grumpy!

    Am reposting with some other links–thank you!

  18. Chris Lites said, “It’s the Oscars. People watch to be catty, snide and self-indulgent. hosts make fun of the stand out films/actors of the time. A cigar is sometimes just a cigar.”
    How presumptuous. I have never watched the Oscars to make fun of anyone or snark at the audience and films. I watch it to see what passes off as our royalty. I love to see the gowns and diamonds. The glitterier, the better! I rarely even see someone I think made a terrible fashion faux pas, though there have been a few. I was tired after nearly 4 hours of extravaganza but thoroughly entertained. Loved Streisand’s tribute to Marvin Hamlisch.

    I am not pleased at the hatred shown to Quevenzhané. She is a very talented little girl and I hope she doesn’t get squashed by a cynical public who hasn’t yet grown out of their bigotry.

  19. @Lenora Rose: since you were wondering how Quvenzhané Wallis pronounces her name, I present Quvenzhané Explains It All.

    Come to think of it, that would be an awesome show.

  20. I don’t really follow movies, or the Oscars, at all, so I’d never heard of the kid until I read this.

    But… she looks adorable, and in those gifs, I don’t see insufferable, I see cute and proud. She’s not being a brat about it, she’s not jumping around or yelling, she just looks happy and proud.

    I can see what the Onion was trying for, but… clumsily executed at best, and that’s a risky as hell joke line, so that kind of language was a bad, bad choice. Seth McFarlane, who I’d also never heard of, I’m pretty sure, just… ew.

  21. I didn’t watch the Oscars, but by all accounts and clips, it was a disaster. My teenage daughter was not pleased. McFarlane actually does a lot of solid, subversive, upward satire in his animated shows and projects, and got a black character led animated show on the air, but it’s mixed with crude frat boy humor and it’s not urbane or even stand-up comedy for natural hosting. The Academy wants to grab the younger ad-desired demo, which they’ve been loosing, and clearly thought having McFarlane would bring them lots of teenage boys and young males, (who indeed don’t know a movie is fantasy unless it’s on soda cans a lot of the time.) And it did apparently work — ratings were up and younger viewers were up. But it would have worked just as well if McFarlane had not panicked and gone for the lowest common denominator, given that this year had a lot of exciting, younger nominees in it. It’s long been a “joke” concerning Hollywood about waiting for female teen and child stars to turn 18, be legal and thus it being supposedly no longer creepy to lust after them — the Olsen twins, Hilary Duff, etc., to excuse misogyny throughout Hollywood, and McFarlane applied that logic to a nine year old black girl. Extremity doesn’t automatically mean successful humor. What it does is keep old bigotries in place.

    Which goes for the Onion too. When I heard what they did, I was just furious. It was a betrayal. I’m glad they apologized and are cleaning up after the mess, but that anyone over there thought that the context of the joke would work for satire in the first place indicates age old and ugly social viewpoints from an organization that is supposed to be shattering them. She was there in her dress and her puppy purse, knowing she wasn’t going to win, just there to have the night of her life after a job well done. And now she has to get asked about this again and again by media. To try and score a Twitter point for the Onion.

    But I think one bright aspect to all this, maybe, is that it’s a reflection of another sort of progress. Women made large inroads on big budget action movies in 2011 and 2012, in getting media attention for their acting roles in dramatic films as well as for their outfits, in outselling the men in music, in being the leads of t.v. shows, etc. And this is the backlash — we saw your boobs. Don’t get too big for your britches, little ladies, because we can still make you strip naked on film, we can still call you sexist slurs and claim it’s funny, and make sex jokes about little girls and how young actresses are just our playthings because we still run everything. It had a distinct smack of fear to it and McFarlane went for that because it was easy and he was expected to be “edgy” and he was nervous about the hosting role. He gave us what he thought we wanted when he has a lot more to offer, and that was a cultural threat reaction to women making big strides, even at the young age of 9, or 22, and at the older age of 86.

    And then Jemisin went and had to tell me about the comments at Jezebel and squash that bright side a bit. Sigh. If there’s one thing women, especially young women, need to be right now to get anywhere in a world desperately trying to return to 1850, it’s too big for their britches. Especially when it comes to Hollywood, which reluctantly toasted Kathryn Bigelow for one film and this year viciously went after her for attempting something even more ambitious and centered around a female character. Or more realistically, in retaliation for her being the first female director to win. But it would be nice if there was a moratorium so that an actress could get to say at least 12, 14 before being the punchline about why women doing anything awesome is offensive and must be undercut.

  22. She should have won the Oscar; her acting was phenomenal. The scene in which all the little abandoned girls are innertubing across the water to find their mothers? Unforgettable.

    Ragging on a 9-year-old and sexualizing her? I’m throwing up in my mouth. This society’s problems aren’t all gun related.

  23. They called a nine-year-old girl a *what*? Ew. Just ew. And no, that’s not satire. That’s just disgusting.

    The whole night, I kept wondering why MacFarlane thought Creepy Uncle would work well on an Oscar host. And what was up with the boobs song?

    Every time I watch the Oscars, I kind of regret it. Too much second-hand embarrassment and the actresses always get trashed. Then any actresses of color who are fortunate(?) enough to get nominated get trashed even worse. Remember the year Halle Berry won? Yeesh.

    I didn’t know people were actually saying all that crap about this little girl until I read this, but I wish I were shocked by it. Class definitely gets left behind on the red carpet on Oscar Night.

  24. I didn’t even hear about this, and since I don’t follow the Acadamy Awards… (Side note: A fantasy movie got made? I thought that only happened in fantasy novels!)

    Anyways: fucking ridiculous. This child should be lauded, not shot down on account of ignorance, and certainly NEVER sexualized or referred to with demeaning language. Who the hell gets off calling this little girl *anything* other than extraordinary?!

    Which is why I don’t follow the Oscars.

    And which is also why I no longer follow The Onion.

    So my outrage starts now.

    My own name consists of two (2) syllables and most people still say it wrong–most just ignoring my corrections, but some going so far as to correct my pronunciation of my own name. So fuck ’em. I mispronounce their names on purpose, and that usually does the trick.

  25. I am just now reading this as I just finished the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I watched the Oscars and thought Ms. Wallis was one of the best parts. Yes I am White and I do think the negative comments are coming from a racist perspective. I didn’t read anything after the show so had NO IDEA peopl e responded this way. She was happy to be there and hoping she would win. What is wrong with that? I am so sad that people tried to steal her joy and BULLY her. With all the attention being given to bullying how can people knowingly cause such painnto a 9 year old. It’s horrific and cruel.