Why Janet Hubert's 'clap back' on #OscarsSoWhite is petty, personal and played
Monday night, the Internet blew up when Janet “Aunt Viv” Hubert decided to turn on her camera phone and let 20 years of pent-up bitterness spill tea all over her kitchen counter.
The whole display was petty, deliciously so.
The kind of shade that only tired old black people and seasoned reality stars can pull off with such unflinching fervor.
Yet while I appreciate why so many people are giggling at Hubert’s vainglorious tirade, I also can’t help but be concerned that her personal vendetta against the Smith family is being used to further diminish the very real issues surrounding #OscarsSoWhite.
The first thing that jumped out about the video (aside from the heavily pixilated filter that made her look like a deranged Lisa Frank folder) was the intro. She very proudly kicks off the rant introducing herself as “Blacktress Janet Hubert.”
Pause for a second.
By using the moniker “Blacktress,” which presumably stands for “black actress,” Hubert is making it known that acting is such an integral part of her identity, she literally uses it as part of her name.
Yet, this is supposed to be a video where she explains why the injustices that other black actors and “blacktresses” face don’t matter.
Am I the only one who sees the glaring hypocrisy here?
Then Hubert goes on to explain that since it’s Martin Luther King Day, and she just turned 60, she doesn’t “give a kitty” about how what she is about to say is taken. I must confess, that disclaimer did make me giggle because while I’m not sure Dr. King fought for our right to be petty, I can still appreciate when someone owns up to their lack of damns.
But after that, it all goes gleefully downhill.
Hubert brazenly tells Jada “Miss Thing” Pinkett-Smith to stop yapping on her man’s behalf. Then points out that there are more important things in the world to worry about — like people dying in the streets, police brutality and world hunger just to name a few — explaining to the A-list starlet that her woes “just ain’t that deep” because “people” out here are more concerned about paying their bills.
Yes, no need worry yourself with Oscars boycott talk — Miss Blacktress needs to pay her bills.
To be fair: I can only imagine how demoralizing it must be to only be remembered as “the first Aunt Viv.” When Hubert is not rolling her eyes and sassily calling people “girlfriend” on Facebook, she probably consoles herself by watching reruns of her famous dance sequence episode.
The source of her vitriol is transparent but sympathetic. Who’s to say how any of our egos would hold up in the face of such an embarrassment?
However, let’s not let this woman’s long awaited ‘clapback’ take away from the very real issues surrounding #OscarsSoWhite.
All marginalized groups can attest to the fact that visibility and representation are essential to achieving social justice.
Historically, the Oscars have celebrated films like 1993’s Philadelphia, which was actually integral in shifting this country’s perspective on both gay rights and HIV advocacy. Once the Academy and other major forces validated those types of narratives, the nation as a whole followed suit. Now 20 years later, gay marriage is legal on a federal level, and supporting HIV/AIDs awareness is socially acceptable.
The same goes for films about people with disabilities, women’s rights, domestic violence and a host of other issues.
What we consume and are exposed to shapes our shared realities.
Following that same logic, when black performers and filmmakers are snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it isn’t just the actors who suffer. Black people en masse, whose stories they are cast to tell, also miss the opportunity to be seen and heard.
No two men illustrate this better than Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, who in recent years have been slighted by the Academy twice for exceptional directorial and acting performances in Fruitvale Station and Creed.
In a recent piece called What to do about #OscarsSoWhite, I pointed out that,
A movie such as “Fruitvale Station,” about the last moments of an unarmed black man’s life before he is senselessly killed by police officers at a train station, was snubbed by the academy eight months before Michael Brown was killed.
It was an urgent and timely call to action well before #BlackLivesMatter was even conceptualized, with black and white moviegoers alike confused as to why such a deeply deserving project was ignored.
I shudder to think how much good that movie could have done if it had been given half as much visibility as “Philadelphia.” It could have galvanized the public around the issues of racial discrimination and unlawful arrests of black youth.
And this isn’t an isolated example.
In 2015, I lost count of how many stories we published about little black boys dying while playing football, due in large part to a lack of awareness about the dangers of sports related head injuries. Yet the academy would rather leave two available slots empty in the Best Picture category than acknowledge the groundbreaking true story told by Will Smith in Concussion.
That’s how blatant the bias has become.
Those who think that you can only worry about racial injustice or Oscar snubs could not be any more short-sighted. These two issues aren’t at odds — they actually feed into each other. Whether we want to admit it or not, we need the mainstream media to acknowledge and highlight black actors, black stories, and diverse representations of the black experience.
Protesting and boycotting is fine — but nothing (literally NOTHING) has the power to humanize minorities like the arts. There are whole parts of the world — and sections of this country — that are only exposed to black Americans based on what they see on the screen.
Do we really want to dismiss the gravity of that missed opportunity?
Anyone who says this is “just about a silly awards show” needs to take a serious look at the history books. That’s like saying Muhammad Ali was just a boxer, Harry Belafonte was just an actor or James Brown was just a singer. Black people have successfully used artists and their platforms to further our efforts for generations.
How did so many of us suddenly forget that?
As for Hubert, yes — it’s easy to roll your eyes at the influence of black excellence when you’re habitually throwing shade from your kitchen table.
So while it’s cute that Aunt Viv finally got to get her grievances off her chest — that doesn’t make Jada Pinkett-Smith’s call to action any less valid, necessary or timely.