The Weeknd’s Oscar performance proves award show to still be a boys club

The Weeknd_Oscars

After nominating no black actors this year, and a strong backlash proclaiming #OscarsSoWhite, Sunday’s Academy Awards tried its darnedest to prove that the Oscars aren’t racist, or, at the very least, to “hang a lampshade” on Hollywood racism with comedy sketches and jokes from host Chris Rock.

But despite all the talk from the Academy about the importance of diversity, and aside from Lady Gaga’s performance of “Till It Happens To You,” the show was oddly silent on the subject of Hollywood sexism. (Amazing, really, considering that women make up only 19 per cent of non-acting nominees.) In fact, the only time sexism was brought up during any of the programmed content was when Chris Rock dismissed its very existence.

After mentioning the #AskHerMore campaign, Rock commented:

“You’re not allowed to ask women what they’re wearing anymore. Everything’s not sexism; everything’s not racism. They ask the men more because they’re all wearing the exact same thing. If George Clooney came in a lime-green tux with a swan coming out of his ass they’d say, ‘What are you wearing George?’”

Rock pulls a classic move, invisibilizing sexism by claiming, “That’s just the way things are!”

True, there is less focus on the men’s fashion choices because they are all wearing the same uniform, but as Kathleen Barry pointed out last year, this is an important and pernicious way in which sexism is maintained. The men are allowed to all look very dignified in their tuxedos, while women “seem to be undressing more than they are dressing for TV appearances.”

We were treated to a striking example of this sexism in The Weeknd’s performance of his Oscar-nominated song, “Earned It,” from the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack. As The Weeknd stood and sang, fully clothed in a tuxedo, female dancers wearing black lace teddies and dog collars crawled on the floor around him in a circle. In this over-the-top display of male dominance and female submission, the lyrics of the song presented a stunning reversal.

The women on the floor splayed their legs towards him, as The Weeknd sang “Girl, you earned it.”

What did they earn? Licking his boots?

“Cause, girl, you’re perfect.”

Perfect how? Is she the perfect slave?

“You’re always worth it.”

The lowly position of the women relative to his dignified stance made the line take on a patronizing meaning: Lucky women — you’re all worthy of being his subordinate!

“And you deserve it.”

This lyric is the horrible cherry on top — the ultimate victim-blaming line: “She deserved it.”

Based on this year’s show, the Oscars still have a long way to go if they ever want to be considered as more than a boys’ club.

Susan Cox
Susan Cox

Susan Cox is a feminist writer and academic living in the United States. She teaches in Philosophy.

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  • Cassandra

    Hollywood is a cesspit of sexism and misogyny. Chris Rock is a sexist a*hole. This not news, but still, good analysis of the horror show that is the Oscars, year after year after year.

  • Melissa Cutler

    I had so many problems with the Oscars this year.
    That #askhermore comment from Rock turned my stomach.

    To add an intersectional element to your terrific article, Susan: I read a really on-point critique of Chris Rock from a WOC named Akida Soloman who wrote eloquently about Rock’s jokes about Jada Pinkett Smith.
    Soloman wrote, “It was humiliating and painful to watch a Black man make fun of a Black woman.”
    and “he reduced everything—the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, the boycott and the alternate events (including one starring his brother)—to the sour grapes of a self-centered, spoiled, unqualified Black woman.”

    Plus, Rock joked that Pinkett Smith didn’t belong at the Oscars, even though she had top billing on a major motion picture in 2015 that grossed over $66 million (Magic Mike XXL). A stat courtesy of this article:

  • lk

    I read the transcript of Rock’s monologue because I was curious to see how he would handle the issue; I feel like he was just all over the place-admitting there is racism in Hollywood, but trying real hard to downplay its significance.

    He says: “Now the thing is, Why are we protesting?..The big question: Why this Oscars? Why this Oscars, you know? ….Say ‘62 or ‘63, and black people did not protest…Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time, you know? We had real things to protest; you know, we’re too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.”

    These kinds of statements are annoying. First, because minority artists have long fought against discrimination and the right to create, even in the midst of very serious things happening (like slavery,
    racial violence, sexual violence, war and etc). Second, obviously lynchings are worse than having your art go unrecognized or unrewarded . But so what? Are we only allowed to talk about racism when it leads to dead brown bodies? Can we not protest against (or at least acknowledge) racism in other forms? (Similarly, can we only talk about sexism when it leads to dead female bodies?)

    He does acknowledge that there is racism in Hollywood, but is quick to remind us that its not the “burning-cross racist” and “not everything is about race, man.”

    It is interesting that there was barely any mention of sexism—I’ll be honest and admit that I’m so used to the Oscars mostly rewarding male contributions to film that the lack of female representation didn’t
    even register with me until I read an article that pointed it out.

    • Susan Cox

      I was also annoyed by Rock’s comment about how Hollywood is “Sorority Racist.” He could have easily used “Fraternity Racist” to get the same joke across, but everyone loves to bash on “dumb blond” Sorority girls. It’s funny because misogyny! Also the joke comparing Carol to porn was awful. At least Chris Rock was 100 times better than the horror that was Seth MacFarlane in 2013.

    • Sally Hansen

      I just don’t get it… like it’s very plausible and highly probable he himself has to have experienced SOME kind of racism in his line of work… how much did they fucking pay him to say this shit, that’s what I’d like to know.

  • Zuzanna Smith

    I’m so glad I didn’t watch that overhyped dreck, sounds more like a punishment than entertainment. I instead watched the 80’s schlocky but fun, “They Live” which is a fitting counterpoint somehow.

  • Misanthropia

    Chris Rock is the perfect example of how men don’t really care about women and their own misogyny. He’s spoken about racism but he still proliferates the same fucking misogyny of his white peers. Men are going to have to work so fucking hard to even be considered as valid allies of the feminist movement. Until then fuck off. When will women be allowed to be human? WHEN?

  • radwonka

    Wow that pic where women are pornified and sexualised, with that stupid weekend in the middle (obviously not naked and not sexualised because he’s an alpha male, not like those inferior good for masturbation women -sarcasm-), makes me want to puke.

  • Sally Hansen

    I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. Glad I didn’t watch this tripe.