The great thing about award shows is that it's pretty common for the hosts of them to spend at least some of their opening monologue playfully slamming the very show they're hosting. So when Jimmy Kimmel joked about Donald Trump at the 2017 Oscars, he used it as a means of slamming both the president and the ceremony. "I want to say thank you to President Trump," he began, before finishing on the zinger, "I mean, remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?" It's one of those jokes that's funny because it's true — painfully, painfully true.
After all, just like President Trump has been criticized for racist policies and rhetoric, so too has the Oscars been criticized for its lack of diversity in nominees or winners or both. The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag caught fire in 2015 when performance nominees failed to mention a single person of color, and again in 2016 when the same thing happened in the major acting categories. At the time, this seemed like the highest amount of racism that Americans could accept — but then Donald Trump was promising to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and talking about keeping Muslim people out of the country. And then he became President of the United States.
As Kimmel so perfectly points out, remember when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?
The joke is a thoughtful one because it casts a critical eye on pop culture lovers like myself. At the same time that we were criticizing the Oscars for lacking diversity and refusing to embrace and award underrepresented stories, Donald Trump was building a platform on statements like "When Mexico sends its people... They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists." A platform that was resonant enough with enough people for him to win the electoral votes to become president of the United States, after which he immediately signed executive order after executive order to do things like banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries and getting the construction of that Mexico wall underway. When thinking about that, it does seem almost funny that we were concerned about racism at the Oscars rather than racism in the political race, doesn't it? I mean, many of us were concerned about both, but that wasn't enough.
The joke is also pointed because of contrast. The kind of racism that the Oscars has been accused of, while very worth addressing because of what it says about representation of, and respect for, actors and filmmakers of color, is not as outrageously racist, xenophobic, and toxic as policies that directly seek to disenfranchise people of color.
It's a rare joke that can make you think, make you laugh, and make you kind of want to cry afterward, but leave it to Jimmy Kimmel to nail all three emotions during his Oscars monologue.