SAN DIEGO – Today’s deep philosophical question comes from Hollywood: If a racist comment is uttered at the Academy Awards, but it comes from a liberal, is the comment really racist?
The liberal website The Huffington Post doesn’t think so. It cut the left-wing loudmouth some slack, with an initial headline that referred only to an “incredibly insensitive comment.” Liberals apparently reserve the “R-word” for conservatives.
Look at the lashing given to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who said that he didn’t think President Barack Obama “loves America” and wound up being accused of racism.
Ironically, it was one of Obama’s most vocal defenders in Tinseltown – someone who was a fierce critic of George W. Bush, and known to be cozy with Latin American dictators – who made the offensive comment at the Oscars.
Moments before presenting the film “Birdman” with the award for Best Picture, Sean Penn said this about the film’s director and co-writer Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu:
“Who gave this son-of-a-(expletive) his green card?”
Now we know why Penn, an Oscar-winning actor, doesn’t do much comedy. He’s not good at it.
Iñárritu – who previously directed Penn in the film “21 Grams” – told reporters backstage that he wasn’t offended by the comment, calling it a “hilarious” joke between friends.
With friends like these, who needs the nativist fringe?
We get the punchline. The filmmaker is foreign-born. I don’t see what’s hilarious about that. British actor Eddie Redmayne, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor, is also foreign-born. Yet Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett managed to present Redmayne’s statue without insulting him – and the entire population of Great Britain.
Was this simply an “insensitive” comment? I would have used stronger adjectives. What Penn said was – at very least – xenophobic, condescending and inappropriate.
Especially in front of tens of millions of viewers worldwide. Your mother warned you to be careful what you say in mixed company. A global audience is as “mixed” as it gets.
Hollywood liberals spend so much time trying to become better people by taking up pet causes when, through leaked emails and embarrassing utterances, we now see that what many of them really need is better social skills.
At least this kerfuffle clears the air. I could write 100 columns explaining how liberals are often as racist as conservatives. But Penn illustrates the point very well.
So what if the target of the remark claims that he was not offended? When has that fact ever mattered when we’re calling out inappropriate behavior?
Iñárritu has the ability to tell stories, but he doesn’t have the power to excuse this kind of slight on behalf of 120 million Mexicans in his home country, or 30 million or so Mexican-Americans in this one.
Meanwhile, Penn has directed a handful of films. He didn’t win Oscars for any of them. Maybe he’s jealous of the Mexican-born director and screenwriter and the green-card joke was a sophomoric way of putting a “friend” in his place. It’s hard to imagine that Penn would have made such a remark about a white director, even one whose immigration status was in question.
We should be grateful that Penn didn’t try to hire Iñárritu to landscape his yard. Now, that would have been awkward.
During his acceptance speech, Iñárritu tried to brush off the insult and wound up swerving into territory that is full of them: the immigration debate.
“I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico,” Iñárritu said. “I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country, who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”
Good luck with that, amigo. The first step is to choose better friends.
Iñárritu has lived in the United States for less than 20 years. In time, he’ll learn not to believe what is in the brochure about this being a “nation of immigrants.” Hopefully, he’ll also learn that it’s not acceptable to excuse a bigoted remark in a clubhouse just because you’re a member of the club.
For the time being, here’s a tip for folks on both sides of the border: If you’re Mexican and talented, and you want to be treated with respect and dignity, steer clear of Hollywood.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.