Like most awards shows, the 2017 Oscars promised a lot to look forward to: a well-deserved Viola Davis win, some gorgeous musical numbers from the Moana cast, Lion's adorable star Sunny Pawar stealing the show, and so on. Yet coming into this year's show, there was also the promise of something I, for one, would've given anything not to see — lighthearted, friendly "jokes" about Mel Gibson, who, despite his past racist and misogynistic behavior, was being honored all throughout the show.
Nominated for Best Director for his film Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson was in attendance at the Oscars, to the frustration of many who haven't forgotten his controversial past. Back in 2006, you may recall, Gibson was recorded making horrific Anti-Semitic and racist comments during an arrest for a DUI; four years later, he was heard on a phone call with his then-girlfriend suggesting that it'd be her fault if she got "raped by a pack of n***ers." At the time, Gibson was shunned from Hollywood, and his reputation was in tatters. But, last year, he began his return into the industry's good graces, releasing a well-reviewed movie, being praised by his colleagues, and getting honored by awards shows.
At the Oscars, Gibson was treated with lighthearted ease on the red carpet, with no mention by the hosts of his controversial past. Although disappointing, that wasn't too surprising, considering that red carpets typically aren't fodder for deep commentary. Yet the actual ceremony could've been a different story; hosts have, in the past, called out attendees for their bad behavior and purposely made them uncomfortable in front of their peers.
Not this year's show, though. In Kimmel's opening monologue, he made jokes at Gibson's expense, but with a light, friendly tone that suggested the two were just playing around. Discussing how he himself wouldn't be able to unite our divided country, Kimmel pointed at Gibson and said, “There’s only one Braveheart in this room, and he’s not gonna unite us, either.” He then said this of Gibson: “Mel, you look great. I think the Scientology is working.”
Later, talking about the director's film Hacksaw Ridge, Kimmel called it "The story of a conscientious objector who decides to work with Mel Gibson anyway." Theoretically, this joke, and the ones made in the monologue, were meant to insult Gibson and point out his controversial background. In reality, though, they came off as good-natured quips, nothing meant to actually acknowledge the severity of Gibson's past actions or show that not all had, actually, been forgiven.
Look, it's not that Kimmel had to tear Gibson apart during his time on-stage; clearly, a joke-filled monologue is not the place for a serious, long-winded tirade about racism and Anti-Semitism. But the host didn't have to make light of Gibson's past, either. Kimmel's friendly, forgiving nature only made it seem more obvious that Hollywood has embraced Gibson back into the fold, despite his hateful speech and actions. The host's "jabs" mean nothing when they're said so playfully, and when Gibson is sitting in the audience among his peers, being honored for making a "comeback" after so many years away.
Gibson's appearance at the Oscars, and honors for his work, are upsetting to see, and reminders of Hollywood's short memory when it comes to men (particularly white men) doing terrible things. Sadly, Kimmel's "jokes" only made matters even worse.