For the second consecutive year, late night personality Jimmy Kimmel hosted the Academy Awards. The comedian kicked off the 2018 Oscars broadcast with a witty monologue that brought up the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood, the Parkland survivors-led March For Our Lives, the fight for equal pay, studios' reluctance to empower women and minorities to carry films or lead behind the camera, homophobia, and other timely social and political topics. But though the tone and content of his speech seemed to go over well, fans watching from home didn't like the optics of it. Jimmy Kimmel is a white, straight, cis man, so he experiences many of these issues only indirectly, if at all.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kimmel said that his rule of thumb in hosting the Oscars is to "play to the room." And this particular room after this particular year could be considered by some to be a tough crowd. Kimmel struck a playful, celebratory tone, even while addressing the tough topics that are still inevitably on everyone's mind. There was some confusion in the days leading up to the show about whether or not Kimmel would include the #MeToo movement in his material, with some outlets misinterpreting an ABC News interview where Kimmel said, "This show is not about reliving people’s sexual assaults... " Asked by Vanity Fair whether #MeToo was an off-limits topic, Kimmel clarified, “It’ll be a part of the show." He continued:
“I can’t give you a percentage, but it’ll be a part of it. There are certain things and people that deserve mockery, and there are parts of that story that most certainly don’t. You just have to sort through that and plan your approach that way.”
And the host didn't hesitate to name names. He mentioned Harvey Weinstein's ousting from the Academy after multiple women came forward with accusations of sexual assault and misconduct; the vast disparity between Mark Wahlberg's pay for the All The Money In The World reshoots and Michelle Williams'; and, of course, the biases exhibited by the president and vice president. He lauded the financial success of Black Panther as undeniable proof that black actor-led films are more than viable, and shared depressing statistics about how few women directors are making studio movies every year.
Kimmel is outspokenly political on his show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and it's evident that cares about equality, representation, and fairness. But Twitter certainly saw the irony in having a host who enjoys all the privileges of his gender, race, and sexuality deliver jokes about how frightening, dangerous, and imbalanced the industry and our world still are. It's not that Kimmel personally was the wrong choice, but this would have been a very appropriate year to invite a woman and/or a person of color to host the festivities. After all, these facts are very well known by the marginalized people Kimmel mentioned; they don't need a white man to remind them that things are — for lack of a better phrase — messed up.
Here's how Twitter responded:
It's simply not enough to talk about the problems that a lack of representation at all levels of the industry creates while still keeping those structures in place. Kimmel is a great Oscars host. He's professional, relaxed, funny, and very pointed in his criticism. But he's not the only person for the job, and unfortunately, his presence strikes a problematic note. He's occupying a space that could easily be occupied by someone who is not white and male — someone who is impacted on a regular basis by the injustices that he spoke of. This was a missed opportunity for the Academy to make a strong statement about opening the door wider, as much of a pro as Kimmel obviously is.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.