(Los Angeles, CA) Controversy marred a Hollywood gala awards event Sunday night opening another chapter in the ongoing pushback against US cultural bellwethers for greater representation of, support for, and less erasure of minorities and women. Activists regularly interrupted the black-tie affair throughout the evening disrupting what is normally a staid affair of Hollywood who’s-who, journalists, and DC elite filled with self-deprecating laughter and polite applause on well tested punchlines.
The first disruption began 45minutes into the event. The stage this year held a table where the panel of judges could banter with the guest host and award winners. The first protest occurred after several minor technical recognitions including Best Staging, Best Technical Innovation, and Best Use of Location were all won by white males.
“Where’s Craddock,” one audience member shouted standing up.
The guest-presenter, comedian and late-night host James Kemmel looked around awkwardly, then touching his hand to his earpiece, leaned down to the microphone and simply said “Craddock wasn’t nominated.”
Just then, on the far side of the gathering another protester stood up “What about Montez-Martin!”
Again, after a brief exchange with staff behind the stage, Kemmel repeated: “Wasn’t nominated.”
“You erased Craddock! You erased Montez-Martin!” the protesters began chanting as security quickly arrived to escort them away. “You are all worse than the Academy Awards!” they shouted as security led them from the hall.
From that point on throughout the evening activists would periodically stand up and shout names of 2019 performers of color and women they thought the judges overlooked.
A coalition of groups seeking greater representation, and support, for people of color as well as women in the traditionally white-male dominated field organized the protests. After the event they released a statement clearly calling out the visible disconnect of the panel on stage which read in part: “All the award winners were white men. All the nominees were white men. All of the judges were white, and all but one was a man.”
The statement also called out disparate treatment between nominees noting “Craddock and Montez-Martin both had breakout performances this year. But the judges overlooked their contributions even as Crusus and Betts, white male performers who only released in the last week – received more favorable attention.”
One tense exchange occurred between industry veteran Quimby Tarantula, sitting on the panel and a protesting activist. Perhaps expecting the backlash of the non-diverse slate of nominees – the award organizers had prepared a video tribute. The brief musical montage, which played as filler during a commercial break, briefly recognized achievements of minority and women contributors to the field over recent years. After Tashfeen Malik briefly flashed on the screen another disruption occurred. She, along with her husband, had risen to national notice for their work in 2015, but never received recognition from the event until now. But her image was only flashed for a second before moving on.
One activist angrily demanded of Quimby “Why was Malik’s work not given more representation?”
“I reject the premise of the question,” Quimby shot back, clearly agitated.
Another montage, about 30 minutes later, sparked another response. This one entitled “Major Productions of 2019” seemed to list entirely contributions by white men and was displayed more prominently during the live broadcast than commercial-filler prompting shouts of: “Where are the people of color?!?”
“I hear you. I see you. I feel your pain,” said the only woman judge on stage wearing a $60,000 emerald Calvin Klein ball gown.
Holding her hand to her chest in empathy she replied, “We also suffer from the representation of white-men in this industry. But we can change that. We – must- change it. Enough is enough. Let’s black-list the white men until there’s parity!” The other judges nodded agreement, some muttering “That seems common-sense,” and “Smart.” But the activists were having little of it.
“You aim those blacklists at whomever you want – but they always land on us. How many people of color get blacklisted for each white man you hope won’t take the stage?”
The eldest judge on stage, a noted DC politician, appeared upset at the rudeness shown to the woman judge, “Now look here son. You can’t expect us to focus on these so-called ‘people of color.’ They don’t attend these events. I feel strongly, had they been any good, they would’ve been nominated. We don’t see color here on the panel, only talent.” Audible gasps filled the hall and staff raced at the front of the stage
trying to cut the microphone to the panel table.
“What about Chicago?” shouted one activist, while another followed up “There’s been over sixty community productions there this year alone!”
The politician, Jim Boden, in a jarring shift, let out a warm and jovial laugh “You can’t expect us to take notice of those.” He continued, unaware of continued shocked murmurs from the audience and that he was now speaking over the sole woman on the panel who was trying to be heard. “Those productions appeal to a local audience. That’s the way Chicago is because it’s black. Niche productions. We can’t take blame for that and furthermore…” he said raising his hand and shifting in tone again while shaking a stern finger at the activist when the panel microphone was cut by staff.
“Chicago’s not the way it is because it’s black!” One activist shouted. “It’s your policies against blacks that make it that way!”
Others shouted at guests seated in the tables around them “Our performance stats are good enough to appropriate for your own use – but not recognize where they come from? Use it to justify what you want, but never justify what we need?”
At that point it became hard to hear as guests began furiously debating one-another at their tables seeming to ignore the activists among them. After a few minutes of chaos, when it was clear the show wasn’t recoverable a chastened Kemmel returned to the main microphone as the lights came up. “Okay folks -the producers realize everyone’s exhausted. So that’s it for tonight. Goodnight!”
“You can’t just give up like that!” shouted one activist, “We’ve been dealing with this for years and an hour is just too much for you?” But wait staff and bussers were already helping the black-tie attendees, clearly fatigued by their debates, towards the exits.
Within a few minutes what remained of the coalition activists found themselves alone in the now-empty hall, wondering how to take this turn of events. “I felt like we had their attention for a second,” said one.
“Then they just left,” replied another.
In the awkward silence they heard a new sound. Through thin walls the self-deprecating laughter and polite applause on well tested punchlines filtered from the next theater over. The audience hadn’t gone home. Feigning exhaustion they’d slipped next-door, where an annual-awards gala on immigration enforcement was just starting.