Shalom Life | October 31, 2014

Is Billy Crystal a Racist? [VIDEO]

Was Billy Crystal's reprisal of his classic SNL character at the Academy Awards racist? Of course not.

By: Ashley Baylen

Published: February 28th, 2012 in Culture » Society » News

Is Billy Crystal a Racist? [VIDEO]

As we all know, the Academy Awards were two days ago. The ceremony was so uneventful that instead of discussing winners, wonderful speeches, or fashion, our focus has somehow remained on Angelina Jolie’s awkward thrusting leg, whether or not we caught a glimpse of Jennifer Lopez’s nipple, and best of all… whether or not our beloved host of the evening is a racist?!

I thought this was a joke at first. A really bad one. What possible reasons could be cited for believing Billy Crystal was a bigot? Was it his choice to reprise his role as Sammy Davis Jr.? The role he played regularly on Saturday Night Live almost 30 years ago? The same role that Sammy Davis himself thought was hilarious and championed?

Many media outlets and Tweeters have referenced Crystal’s Oscar portrayal of Sammy Davis Jr. as ‘Crystal in blackface’. What exactly is the difference between ‘black face’ and a white actor wearing black make-up to portray a black person? No one seemed to have an issue with The Wayans Brothers wearing ‘white face’ in White Chicks. Additionally (and more importantly) no one complained about Crystal’s portrayal of Sammy Davis Jr. for the countless years he was on SNL. No one cared when Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest wore black make-up to portray fictional Negro League players in another SNL skit.

So the real question is, why do people care 25 years later? Is it because today’s generation isn’t familiar with Billy Crystal’s previous portrayals of black men? Maybe because the younger demo doesn’t know who Sammy Davis Jr. is? If the same opening skit with Justin Bieber was on SNL, would it be considered offensive? Do we have different standards for the Academy Awards?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. I do know, however, that accusing the Academy Awards and Billy Crystal of being racist is obscene. Would Morgan Freeman have introduced a video that he believed was racist? Would the executive producers of the Academy Awards have filmed and broadcasted something to a billion people that could be perceived as discriminatory? Of course not.

Ultimately, what I have learned from this experience is that since Billy Crystal’s last hosting appearance in 2004, our expectations of an awards show have changed… but we don’t know what they have changed to. We know the previous several years have been a disappointment. We know we were excited to see Billy return because he reminded us of “the good ol’ days”. Well, ladies and gentleman, Crystal delivered an A+ ‘Billy Crystal Oscars hosting performance’ and now you complain that he wasn’t ‘relevant’ or ‘edgy’ enough? Okay… let’s bring back James Franco, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock for a few years… then you’ll all be begging for your beloved racist host to return.

Check out a classic interview between Rob Reiner and Billy as Sammy Davis Jr from 1986:

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