The Oscars: Billy Crystal's Black Jokes

Blackface and punch lines about roles for black women in Hollywood put race at the forefront last night.

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Billy Crystal as Sammy Davis Jr. (ABC/AMPAS)

When it came to jokes involving black people, Academy Awards host Billy Crystal was on a roll last night.

First, as part of his opening montage, he parodied Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, performing in blackface to portray Sammy Davis Jr. (watch the video below). That was nothing new: He used to do the same in his 1980s Saturday Night Live performances.

But he had more current racial material, too: After Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for her role in The Help, he said, "That moment for Octavia is what the Oscars is all about. I love that movie a lot ... When I came out of The Help, I wanted to hug the first black woman that I saw, which from Beverly Hills is a 45-minute drive." (After Spencer's win, comedian Paul Scheer tweeted that the award "shows just how far we've come since Billy Crystal performed in Blackface.")

Then, while doing a skit in which he guessed what actors were thinking, Crystal attributed this to Viola Davis: "I want to thank my agent, I want to thank my writer and director for creating the role of a strong black woman that wasn't played by Tyler Perry."

Could it actually be a good thing that the challenges faced by African-American women in Hollywood have become so well known that they're now mainstream punch lines? Maybe public acknowledgment of these limited opportunities (even if by a white male, and even if through humor) means a change is in store. Or did Crystal's humor just make you wish that the black jokes had been scrapped along with Eddie Murphy?


Read more at the Huffington Post.

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