Billy Crystal In Blackface: Are the Academy Awards Out of Touch on Race?

Daniel B. Wood, Christian Science Monitor, February 27, 2012

Many reviews of the 84th Oscars characterized the telecast as playing it safe—returning to the tried-and-true and attempting to embrace the glory days of Hollywood. But even if it tried to please a wide-ranging audience, many African-Americans were, at best, rubbed the wrong way.

For many blacks, Sunday’s night show pointed up a stark disconnect between the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and the realities of American life. Their list of complaints is long: Billy Crystal portrayed Sammy Davis Jr. in blackface, and he lampooned James Earl Jones’s voice and Morgan Freeman’s thoughts. Finishing his quip that there are no black women in Beverly Hills, he said he would have to drive 45 minutes to find one.

It didn’t help matters that “The Help”—about poor African-American maids in the 1960s South—was passed over for several key awards, or that first-choice host, Eddie Murphy, withdrew after his producer was dropped for making a homophobic remark.

“This show touched a nerve with the African-American community nationwide,” says Najee Ali, a black activist as executive director of Project Islamic H.O.P.E. in Los Angeles. “They are making a slew of comments on Facebook and Twitter that AMPAS is totally out of touch with reality.”

He points to statistics in a recent study by the Los Angeles Times. It showed the academy to be 92 percent white and 77 percent male, and having an average age of 62. {snip}


In the first place, Mr. Crystal is not the academy, nor was he voted as host by the academy, points out film composer Charles Bernstein, who for 10 years was chairman of the Academy Awards’ rules committee. The academy is 6,000-plus professionals giving awards of merit, and the Oscars is a show put on by ABC—and Crystal is a comedian hired to entertain people between awards of merit, he says.


Mr. Bernstein is irritated by accusations of non-inclusion when the academy gave key awards to films involving Iran, Pakistan, Italy, and France. Also, Octavia Spencer was named best supporting actress for her portrayal of a black maid in “The Help.”

“The academy voters are the ones who stood up and cheered for Octavia Spencer, so I get annoyed when the press spends the day after in a feeding frenzy that AMPAS is villainous and not diverse,” Bernstein says.


“We are a nation that tells ourselves that that we are colorblind, but any cursory examination of who controls the nation’s positions of power (the Senate, corporate America, directors’ boards, presidents of universities) tells us a story of white control,” says Charles Gallagher, La Salle University sociology professor, in an e-mail.

He adds that for most whites, however, the fact that whites still control most institutions has been replaced with the idea that racial minorities have achieved social and economic parity.

“President Obama and movies like ‘The Help’ further cement the idea that the age of colorblindness has arrived. If you start with the premise that whites see a level playing field, which according to Gallup polls is the case, then all groups and topics are fair game for ridicule,” Professor Gallagher says. “If you believe that . . . disadvantages are a thing of the past, then you can grease on the blackface because blacks are now perceived to be part of the socioeconomic mainstream, even though they remain marginalized in places like Hollywood.”


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  • Up to my neck in CA

    Well that’s funny, I found this offensive.

    You want the strong noble black man in the leading role, write the damn movie yourself Chris Rock!

  • Marc B

    He made a funny comment about wanting to run up and hug the first black woman he saw after getting out of help but realized the closest one would be across town.

  • sbuffalonative

    Mr. Crystal has done black face on two previous occasions that I recall.  He’s just carrying on the legacy of Al Jolson.

  • DelmarJackson

    I didn’t watch it this year after  lasy year when they refused to mention Farrah Fawcett with the names of the other actors that died last year. She wasn’t great, but she deserved a mention by the Academy. And she sold a lot more posters than anyyone they mentioned  too.

  • Give a break. They were jokes and they were funny.  Billy Crystal is funny.  And jokes are always directed at someone.  It can’t always be the white male who is the brunt. 

  • The_Bobster

    He points to statistics in a recent study by the Los Angeles Times. It showed the academy to be 92 percent white and 77 percent male, and having an average age of 62.


    How many of those “Whites” were White Christians?

    • blight14

       Great point, answer, ZERO!

    • I know I don’t have to tell you, but what percentage of them are White and what percentage of them as “White?” How many tribesman are on the Academy Award panel? Is it 2 percent as is their population in America? A tenth as is their population in the world?

      Does he also point to statistics saying that Billy Crystal is “White” too?

  • Oh, brother.  I didn’t watch the program because I cannot abide watching Hollywood pat itself on the back, unless Ricky Gervais is there to “keep it real.”  Now, how many outraged Argentinians would scream the R word if Billy Crystal did his Fernando character?
    FFS, Sammy Davis, Jr. was practically white anyway.

  • All of this doesn’t cover up the big problem with the Oscars this year — All the marquee awards were a foregone conclusion, that Weinstein Co.-produced or distributed movies would win.  The problem with The Help is that Harvey Weinstein had no hand in it whatsoever, and that’s why it won nary an Oscar.

    I ask thee, which is less credible?  The Weinstein Co.’s 8 Oscars, or Adele’s 6 Grammys?

  • radical7

    I guess the question I have is that why do so many Whites like to dress up in blackface? From Al Jolson onward, there seems to be an obsession with Whites doning black make up, whitening their lips and prancinfg around in Black face.

    You never see Black people adorning White makeup and dancing around in White face unless it they are doing  mime. 

    Perhaps it is psychological.

    • Dedicated to you:

      Remember the scene from the 1960 Oceans Eleven, where Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr are in the dump truck, the three white men are painting themselves black?

      Davis:  “I knew this color would come in handy someday.”

      Lawford (to Davis’s character):  “Josh, how do you get this stuff off?”

    • bluffcreek1967

      Great point! I too never quite understood why some Whites like putting on black make up, singing and dancing a jig!? I always just thought it was plain weird!

    • blight14

       ‘Jolsons’ real name is Asa Yoelson……

    • The_Bobster

      Our token black really needs to get out more:

      BTW, why do you guys like to dress up in drag so much?

  • radical7

    I agree.

  • bluffcreek1967

    Blacks today are incensed when Whites don’t fawn all over them or praise every them for their ‘creativity’. If Hollywood doesn’t give them an Academy Award or special recognition for everything they do, Blacks cry ‘racism’ or complain that their movies are not given a fair chance. Blacks will never be content until the entire world drops to its knees and endlessly praises them for their great contributions and blessings upon mankind. The Black man doesn’t really want a level playing field so as to prove what he can do own his own. He wants preferential treatment, a hand up, a handout, and carried all the way. You know it’s true.      

  • bluffcreek1967

    “African-Americans were, at best, rubbed the wrong way”: Are we surprised by this? Blacks are ALWAYS ‘rubbed the wrong way.’ It’s what they do best.

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    It showed the academy to be 92 percent white and 77 percent male, and having an average age of 62.

    Did “it” show that “they” have political  beliefs to the left of Stalin and Mao?

    Billy Crystal is a has-been who wasn’t even funny and a walking advertisement against plastic surgery.

    According to Newsbusters, Billy Crystal intended to mock GOP “idiots” during Sunday’s Oscar awards.

    Sure enough, forty-five minutes in (by this time I was watching far more entertaining re-runs of Storage Wars) Crystal took shot at GOP candidates calling them “Dark Knight”,  “American Psycho” and “Charismatic Crack Addict.”

    The only person I know who fits that description to a “T” is Obama!!

    Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it.

    – Barack Hussein Obama

    More importantly, do not pour your money into the coffers of these Hollywood elites who mock and scorn traditional values.  They hate us so stop supporting them.


    • Vladdy

      He said that? That “joke” is so bad that I have no idea which description is supposed to fit which candidate.

  • anonymous_amren

    I think the headline should be “Are certain races out of touch with the Academy Awards and how to make good movies?”

    Here’s a bit of a reality check for out of touch black people:

    James Earl Jones’s voice is most famous for playing a white man (well technically an alien, but he looked white).

    And there’s nothing racist about parodying specific people.

    If black people want to control how the Academy Awards are done, they should have invented film-making. Or at the least, learned the art better from white people.

  • The Great Unwashed

    As Chris Rock said,  no straight black men watch the Oscars. So whats their point ?

  • Christianfaith2k

    As for all the Blacks taking over nearly everything…what are the chances of a Black actor or actress being the next host? Oprah would be a disaster…

  • schmenz

    That’s the easiest thing in the world to do.  Today’s films are so amateurishly abysmal that avoiding them will take not the slightest effort.

  • This website is loathe to talk about Jews and discuss their part in this politically correct and multi-cultural kosher world we live in but Billy Crystal is a Jew. He is on a higher up totem pole place with these PC rules because the Jews made them.

    A Jew in Blackface=Yuk yuk yuk.

    A White man in Blackface=A completely finished Hollywood career, or most any career for that matter.