On February 10, 2013, 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis became the Oscar’s youngest nominee in the Best Actress category for her leading role in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
Rather than the traditional “Congratulations!,” it seemed as though Wallis’ accomplishments were used to fuel comedic, and questionably racist, material.
The night of the Oscars the satirical news source “The Onion” did not have congratulatory words for the young breakout star. During their live-tweeting coverage of the Oscars, “The Onion” tweeted: “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of a c–t, right?”
While the tweet was deleted an hour later, this year’s host of the Oscars Seth McFarlane, had his own joke to make about Wallis. Creator of animated comedy shows such as Family Guy and American Dad!, McFarlane is no stranger to controversy. However, some argue he may have taken it a bit too far when he uses Wallis to allude to George Clooney’s history of dating younger women. He said that she was so young, that it would be “sixteen years before she’s too old for Clooney.”
Steve Hannah, CEO of The Onion, has issued an apology on the company’s Facebook page for the tweet on Monday, stating “no person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.” They acknowledge that Willis is a “young and talented” and deserves better. Hannah threatens that action will be take to “discipline” those who were responsible for the publication of the tweet.
There has no been no public statement from McFarlane about his comment.
Between these two comments, backlash ensued. The Wire star Wendell Pierce (@WendellPierce) tweeted to The Onion: “@theOnion is free to hide behind a brand &call a lil’ girl a C-NT.It’s crass&they are punks who would never say it about Spielburg’s kids.”
Pierce is not the only one that is associating the jokes about Wallis to her race. Mikki Kendall (@mikkikendall) tweeted: “You know that people wouldn’t be defending Seth McFarlane for telling the same joke about the little girl [Isabelle Allen] in Les Mis[erables] right?”
Others have defended both the tweet and McFarlane’s joke, denying that they had any roots of modern racism. Several twitter users note that it was just a joke, and is meant to be “satirical.” MaryAnn Johanson, famous for her film reviews on her website “Flick Filosopher,” defended the tweet on the grounds that its shock-factor was and clear outrageousness is enough to make it strictly satirical.
“[That tweet] gets attention in a way that calling a famous adult woman the same thing never does,” Johanson wrote on her website. “Because it’s clearly outrageous in a way that, apparently, isn’t so clear-cut when it comes to an adult woman.”
A twitter user herself (although the account is managed by her parents), Wallis has not released a statement in response to The Onion’s tweet or McFarlane’s joke. However, it is clear that Wallis is not going to let these comments stand in her way. She will play the leading role in the remake of Annie, which will be directed by Will Smith.