Academy Awards 2012: Was Billy Crystal's Oscars blackface in bad taste?

During Billy Crystal’s now customary Academy Awards opening montage, where he is digitally inserted into the year’s nominated films, audiences may have been surprised to see a peculiar image — Crystal in blackface.

In Crystal’s spoof of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the Oscar host appeared in a scene where he greets pop star Justin Bieber in a 1920s-style coach. After cracking a few inside jokes about the time travel-themed comedy, Crystal, in blackface make-up, playing the late Sammy Davis Jr., appeared and joked, “Then we are going to go kill Hitler!”

theGrio opinion: Is blackface always beyond the pale?

Besides seeming like an odd and dated comedic choice (with a none-to-subtle reference to Davis’ Jewish faith), it offended some audiences.

“Who thought it was a good idea to put Crystal in blackface?” was the thrust of numerous tweets following the brief scene.

In Crystal’s defense, the Davis impression was a bit he made popular back during his days on Saturday Night Live. His exaggerated portrayal of the latter-day Davis (always performed in blackface) was a regular character, and Crystal even once played him alongside Rev. Jesse Jackson when he hosted SNL in 1984.

Still, in 2012, a year where The Help was poised for Oscar glory, it seemed a little incongruous, to say the least, for Crystal to retread this well-worn routine. Was this choice purely comedic (à la Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder), or was it in bad taste?

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